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Category: Living it

Aspects of travel, changing where you live, filling your days, doing routine volunteering, managing your money, etc.

Getting into Volunteering

Getting into Volunteering

A lot of us enter retirement with a strong desire to give back.  A lot fewer of us have already established how we are going to do that.  The difference in what happens with those two different starting points can be dramatic.  Why?  Because finding a way to “give back” when you are approaching existing organizations who don’t know you is every bit as daunting as finding a new job.

You have to prove yourself.  That comes over time.

That means you will have to make peace with the reality that those who were there before you will have more say in how and what gets done–even if you are an expert with 35 years experience in what the group is trying to accomplish.

You will have to accept that politics can exist and be every bit as lethal in the volunteer setting as in business, academia, education, or whatever arena you just stepped out of.  

And you have to accept that you are a beginner in everyone else’s eyes because they don’t know you (yet). If you’re already smarting from losing the sense of competence the job gave you, that can be a more brutal beating than you’re ready for.

Do it anyway. 

But be ready to be “the new kid” in terms of what you get to do and how you are perceived.  (And be ready to do your happy dance if being seen as “the rookie” when you aren’t turns out not to be the case.)

Find a volunteer gig that relates to something you’re deeply interested in rather than just jumping into what a friend is already doing.  With paid work, you show up anyway if what you’re doing isn’t that interesting.  With volunteering, “ya gotta wanna” to keep at it long enough to achieve the momentum of enjoying being part of the group.  If you quit a lot of things right after you start because they aren’t interesting, you lose interest in volunteering altogether–an unfortunate overreaction.

Pay attention to the tone of the organization.  Do they appreciate volunteer help?  Are they upbeat with their mission?  Do they treat both those being helped and those doing the helping with respect?  Are they well organized?  Are they using resources wisely?

When you volunteer, you really do get paid–but in emotional benefits.  Being part of a group effort for the greater good can foster a sense of belonging, create the opportunity for new friendships, and make you remember how lucky you are yourself.  But you need to choose the organization wisely to get those things.  “Whatever comes along” might leave you way short of that.

Or, as a good friend used to say “I’ll work for nothing but not any less.”

Ahem…about Your “Stuff”…

Ahem…about Your “Stuff”…

It’s time to admit something important. At some point, someone is going to have to deal with your “stuff”. We don’t seem to be aware of this as we keep adding belongings.  Clutter is just a fact of life, right?

We keep stuff for all kinds of reasons–  “I might need it…”  “It was Grandma’s…” “I might decide to go back into that…”  But the ongoing accumulation of “things” is a slow motion disaster.  A few weeks ago, a woman in Connecticut was killed when the floor of her house collapsed—because of the weight of the stuff she had on it.  They didn’t find her until two days later; the volume was so massive that it looked like the floor was still there when the police checked initially.

That’s an extreme case, but we’re all affected by “stuff.” If you haven’t had to deal with someone else’s after they’ve died, count yourself lucky. If you have, you know what I’m talking about. But here’s the deal. If you can’t face dealing with it, how can someone else—who knows a whole lot less about it–manage to do it after you’re gone?

My family just went through this. Six siblings plus a dear and unflinching sister-in-law hauled load after load out of my youngest brother’s 900-square-foot home for five full days. We got rid of over 100 cubic yards of “stuff.” Don’t naively assume it was just a case of walking it to the dumpster again and again either. Landfills have rules these days. You must dispose of electronics, assorted batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, oil-based paint, other hazardous materials, etc. in very specific ways—or face a fine. There’s a whole different routine for latex paint. Plus, if those doing the disposing have half a conscience about environmental stewardship, there will be trips to the local food bank, Goodwill or a similar second-hand store, and perhaps the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore to donate appropriate “stuff.” And there will be lots of trips to the recycle center.

Accumulated “stuff” is not the benign, minor flaw we want to believe it is. Letting stuff you don’t need, don’t use, and don’t care about pile up leaves less space, resources, and time for what could bring you joy now. Holding onto too many things from the past means you don’t have faith in the present–or the future. It’s also a waste of money if you’re insuring, maintaining, paying for space to keep, and otherwise lavishing resources on all that “stuff.”

My loved one didn’t set out to leave a huge mess for the rest of us to clean up. He felt he needed everything he acquired. That’s how we usually amass stuff…a teeny bit at a time, time after time. But “stuff” doesn’t go away on its own. Somebody is going to have to deal with it eventually.

All six of us siblings came home vowing “I’m not going to do that to anybody!” so I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can do make getting rid of my “stuff” less of a burden when I depart. Everyone’s list will be unique, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
1. Clean out the file drawers! Going through files is huge time sink for next of kin, and I can find most of what I’m keeping online if I do need it.
2. Make sure my kids really want what I’m keeping for them.
3. Whenever I learn someone needs what I’ve discovered I have (and don’t need), give it to them.
4. Mark the contents of boxes I do keep. Include a “Get rid of after ___” date to avoid going through boxes again myself when I can.
5. Donate to the food bank from my pantry. (This gets food I bought for a unique reason and then didn’t use onto someone’s plate rather than sitting on my pantry shelf until it expires.)
6. Dispose of the old paint immediately when I repaint. (But do keep the new paint for repairs.)
7. Be honest with stuff I get as gifts. If I’m not going to use it, return it, donate it, or regift it.
8. Remove anything I haven’t worn in the last year from my closet. Donate what I’m willing to part with. Put the rest in a separate stack. If I don’t wear it in another 12 months, donate it then.
9. Go through my bookshelves quarterly. Pass on anything I don’t expect to read again.
10. Leave notes for my loved ones about what’s what and how to get rid of it.

I want to do this right. From what I’ve seen lately, it’s a really good way to say “I love you.”

 

Find SOMETHING to Celebrate

Find SOMETHING to Celebrate

We tend to save our non-holiday celebration efforts for rare occasions–college graduations, golden wedding anniversaries, and the like.  That’s too bad because celebrating is good for all of us—both the person being feted and those doing the hurrah.  It’s not always necessary to make it a big elaborate deal either.

In the last two weeks, I have been to a wedding, a funeral, and two birthday parties. Let’s start with the wedding.

This is one of those official “rare occasions” but these kids were onto something a lot of us miss when planning that event.  This wedding was definitely designed to be a party.  The young couple was happy to be committing to each other and wanted everyone to be happy with them.  Our job as guests for the evening:  Have a good time.

Even the ceremony itself, performed by a funny yet legally authorized friend, was light hearted.  Weddings are supposed to be happy occasions, but frequently, they become high-stress, major productions.  Instead of a fun party, you end up observing an unfolding effort to make everything go perfectly.   Leave the big productions for Bollywood. Whatever you want to celebrate, focus on the fun rather than the fanfare.

The funeral was for a relative who died at the age of 85 after several years of horrible health.  In my younger years, funerals were solemn events full of fervent prayer for the person who’d died.  Now we celebrate life rather than mourning death—a vast improvement for all concerned.  We spent the time together remembering her in her prime and reliving the fun of years past.

The first birthday party was for a dear friend who turned 75 this year.  Turning 75 really means something to me.  It’s the time when the rest of us get to  acknowledge that the birthday girl or boy has earned their Merit Badge as a wise person.  Sounds like a great reason for a party to me!

The one we planned for this friend was designed as a surprise.  And we actually pulled that off!  This was a group of hikers.  We usually dress ready to hit the trail.  It was fun just to see everyone gussied up.

The first gift the birthday girl received was a crown of real flowers.  (A flower crown makes you feel pretty dang special.  I learned this as the recipient at a surprise party when I turned 59.) She ended up fielding questions from strangers at the restaurant about what was going on for the entire evening, but that was also part of the fun.  Our friend was radiant, and we all were happy together.

The other birthday party?  My own.  It was staged by my three-year old granddaughter.  I’d agreed to watch her and her six-month-old sister while her parents went to a class a few days after my birthday.  My son had taken the time to make chocolate cupcakes and luscious chocolate frosting before they left, but how we put them together and what we did with them was up to my older granddaughter and me.  She took the lead.

First, we had to be sure there was going to be dessert.  She announced at the beginning of dinner that she was going to be a member of the Clean Plate Club that night and she followed through on that.  After dinner, we carefully slathered two cupcakes with the frosting.  Then she insisted we needed candles.  Oh great.  How was I going to come up with them?  She confidently went to the “junk” drawer and found one.  Then she coached me until I found another.  (We had to have two so she could blow one out along with me.)  We put the candles in the cupcakes, I lit them, and she proceeded to sing the entire Happy Birthday song to me.  We blew out our candles.  Then we lit them again and sang the whole song to her.  What a perfect party!

No matter what the situation, there is something to celebrate—something to be happy about.  Sometimes it’s a formal event.  Sometimes it’s a cupcake with a three-year-old.  Sometimes, it’s just clicking your orange juice glasses at the breakfast table  to acknowledge that the sun is out and we have another day together.

Celebrating marks that moment as happy.  It reminds us that life is good—whether it’s happy stories about an 85 year-old loved one who’s just passed or a pre-school graduation.  Celebrating is about giving—recognition, laughter, and the shared happiness of seeing someone accomplish a milestone.  It’s the pinnacle of being “connected.”

Let’s not wait for the super special occasions.  Celebrate something.  Soon.

Do the Next Thing

Do the Next Thing

Whether it’s building a business, finding a job, creating the life you really want, the best advice is “Do the next thing.”  Too often, we do one thing and stop.  Then we wait for the reaction on that thing–the email or phone call expressing interest, the dreaded form rejection letter, the suggestion that a prospective client wants to hear more.

Doing it that way means you spend a lot of your time waiting for what someone else may or may not do.  Waiting is a passive process.  So you lose momentum.  And you feel less effective because…well..nothing’s happening while you are doing all that waiting.

In other cases, you capitalize on one opportunity and call it good.  The chance to speak to a group or have coffee with someone who’s willing to mentor you.  Instead of using that as a springboard for doing more things, we consider ourselves done once we’ve written the thank you note.

Why do we do this?  I think it’s because it’s easier to handle life in little tidbits–to do one thing and then…well….rest.   The problem with this approach is that you start from the point of inertia every time and have to work up the moxie to do that one thing again and again.  You have to talk yourself into it and then get yourself going over and over.

If you look for the next thing with everything you do, you don’t have that acceleration challenge because you’re already moving.  You don’t have to talk yourself into it because you’re still finishing the last thing so you’re already in “do it” mode.

But even better, those “next things” can hold some pretty fun magic.  A year ago,  a career counselor on the other side of the country contacted me about reviewing my book on her blog.  Of course, I was delighted to send a review copy, and she did a wonderful write-up of what I had to say.   End of story, right?

Not really.  After I thanked her for the review, I decided I needed to check out her website more thoroughly.  Among the many things she offers there were links to TV shows she’d done interviewing people who had switched careers after 50 and were thriving.  One  interview in particular intrigued me, and I asked her to e-introduce me to that person.  She graciously agreed.

Then the “next thing” was to contact him.  When I did, I discovered he was looking for experts to write for his web-based business.  In particular, he was looking for somene to cover the business perspective of employing older workers.  That’s an angle I’d been trying to find a way to work for a year.  Perfect.  And that was it, right?  Nope.

The next thing?  Well, there were two.  Through that contact I met another expert who’s focused on people who start their own businesses after 50.  That gave me another angle from which to promote better use of our “retirement” years, another way to expand my knowledge base, and one more platform for increasing my visibility.

The second thing?  I got a request to be a keynote speaker for a conference on the topic because of the articles I’ve been writing from the business perspective.

Here’s the point:  None of these opportunities would have developed had I not gone beyond “thank you” with the woman who offered to review my book.  Stopping at the first thing means you’ll miss a lot of opportunities.

Doing the next thing gives you a sense of both control and movement.  Those are both vital and rare.

Do the next thing no matter what you are trying to do.  Go beyond what has to be done.  Look for what else might be worth the effort.  It will increase your chances of success dramatically.  And it will be more fun than waiting for the phone to ring or the tone that announces a new e-mail to chime on your computer.

 

Lonely, Blue, and 50+

Lonely, Blue, and 50+

It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when life sucks and no one even notices.   It’s probably even easier at 50+.  But we’re big kids now and our fun—and a meaningful life—isn’t someone else’s job.  The “good life” is up to each of us individually.  You may think you’re doing all the right things to make friends and attract a special someone into your life.  But if it’s not happening, look at what you’re telling yourself.

“I’m bored…” 

Well, it’s good to notice this.  It’s bad to sit around waiting for someone else to fix it.  “Bored” is a danger signal.  You need to keep your world expanding to thrive.  Boredom means you aren’t doing that.  Figure out what interests you and pursue it.

Boredom is the first clue to understanding why you can’t make friends, find a sweetheart, or create that good life you’re yearning for, too.  Admitting that you’re bored with what you have going is a good step.  Continuing down that path is settling for being boring.  Boring is not interesting.  If you want a life, be interested—which makes you interesting.

“I want someone to…” 

Are you putting this in terms of what other people are supposed to do for you?  “I want a man to take care of me” is just plain lazy on many levels.  Same deal for “I want a woman to hang out with me.”  Why should other people want to be around you if you just want to use them?  If you want more in your life, you need to do the work to get it there.  Which means you need to be ready to give as well as receive.

The best way to find friends is to take that scary step of going solo to groups who do the things you want to be part of.  An organization probably already exists for what you want to do—some of them explicitly for singles.  Travel.  Sports.  Hobbies.  You name it.

Do some research online.  Check out the local listings of social groups.  And talk to people.   You might find your all-time favorite venue for rock ‘n roll dancing by talking to a guy at a singles dance.  (I did.)  Once you find the group, get active.  Go to the meetings, get involved in the events, volunteer to do what needs to be done.

As a general rule, the best way to beat a bout of the blues is to do something for someone else.  So think about that, too.  There are many ways to help and most of them will help you as much as whoever you’re assisting.  And you never know who you might meet while you’re doing it.

“My way or the highway…”

Another big mistake at this point in life is assuming that everyone you spend time with has to agree with your politics and your religious persuasion.  Good character and the party line are not the same thing.  This is another part of keeping your world expanding.  A good discussion with different points of view makes you think—and grow.  Respecting others’ right to their own views is a key piece of your own emotional development, too.

Being right is baloney.  There are so many shades of gray in what goes on in the world these days that insisting that whoever you talk to sees it exactly as you do is like assuming the entire world should be looking out the same 12” square window.  You’re building a bunker where a bridge belongs–a guaranteed way to feel lonely at the end of the day.

“I want my freedom…” 

One of the pluses of being alone after 50 is the bliss of doing everything the way you want, whether it’s popcorn for dinner, tai chi on the deck at sunrise, or never making the bed.  The hard truth about having other people in your life is you’ll have to let go of some of these “sovereign rights.”   If you want to do things with other people, you’re going have to agree to do it their way sometimes.  One-way streets are for cars not friendships.

Finding people to spend time with and to love is a multifaceted challenge.  It’s also something you have to choose to do and then work at getting good at.  Your mother may have been willing to listen to you go on and on about “you,” but the rest of the world needs more give and take than that.   Get good at both.

To beat “lonely and blue,” get on with what you like to do, connect with others who enjoy those same things, and then get to know them without deciding how they are going to be what you need.  A vibrant life at any age requires that you think beyond yourself and what you “don’t have.”

 

Writing a Killer 50+ Resume

Writing a Killer 50+ Resume

Crafting an effective resume when you’re over 50 has extra challenges. If you get it right, the whole world knows you’re good at what you do.  If you don’t, nothing happens.

One of the benefits of experience is that you can make difficult things look easy.  That’s a problem if you end up needing to convince someone new that you’re the right person for the job.   People who’ve been effective over the long haul often lose track of what it’s like to not be that effective.   That leads you to talk in terms of the job instead of how you did it.  Working from that perspective presents you as a plain vanilla anybody.  So before you write one word of that resume you really needed to have done yesterday, think through these questions.

What makes you a uniquely valuable hire?  The vast majority of us have an extremely difficult time putting this into words.  That may be because you’ve been taught not to brag or it may be a case of assuming everyone can do what you’re good at.  Either way, your next employer isn’t going to know that you have exactly what she needs until you get the information out there where she can see it.  Your first shot in that effort is with your resume.

The current jargon for what you need here is “personal brand.”  Knowing what makes you a valuable employee and being able to put that in five to ten words is important in a job search.  Ideally, you will have practiced these words enough that you come up with them as if on autopilot when needed, even in an unexpected place like at your kid’s basketball game or in line at the grocery store.   Having the first few words come out automatically makes it easier to deal with the rest of the conversation effectively.

What’s a resume for?  A resume is a marketing tool.  This is not the place to tell your life story or to go on at length about the minutia of what you did in each job you ever held.  Those of us with a lot of experience can easily shoot ourselves in the foot on this. The stereoype of aging that our culture holds associates longwindedness with mental decline.  Use only what’s important and be concise.

What does my next employer need to know most about me?  You will be way ahead of the competition if you write your resume so that it addresses how you can solve the hiring manager’s problem.  The best way to do that is to highlight how you’ve helped your previous employers get what they needed done.  Just mentioning that you served as the liaison with the Building Department is nowhere near as compelling as saying that you developed solid relationships with them and got permitting accomplished quickly.

What are the differences between the job description and how YOU performed the job?  Quite often, these two things get confused by resume writers.   Talking about the job instead of your performance obscures the value of your experience.  The duties of the job are what’s written on a formal job description.  It might be something like “handles walk in customer traffic.”  How you did the job probably goes beyond that in some unique way.   Were you effective at helping people figure out what they needed?  At dealing with volatile complaints?  At keeping track of clients’s preferences so they felt like they were “family” and became loyal to your place of business?

There’s a place for the job description language–in the experience section right under the company and job title listed.   Use no more than two lines for that description.  The rest of the space you allot for that job experience needs to focus on what you did particularly well.

How can I avoid being ignored because of my age?  The first step in this is to be sure you’re not setting yourself up with your own thinking. Are you making excuses for not learning new things (including technology!) because you are “too old?”  Are you telling yourself you don’t have the stamina you need for what you want to do next?  Neither of these things is a given consequence of getting older.  Change you lifestyle and stop telling yourself that you’re old.

In your resume, pay close attention to your choice of words. Use action verbs and short phrases to project energy. Consider an initial section that speaks in current terms–what you can do NOW–rather than putting everything in the past tense a chronological resume requires.  Avoid as many adjectives and adverbs as you can–they bog the writing down.  And avoid obsolete slang and phrases.

Having experience is a plus that has somehow become devalued in today’s job market.   You can’t expect to be valued for the seniority you had at another company.  But you can present yourself as a viable candidate because of how well you did the work.  You can create momentum to propell yourself into your next job by projecting energy and making a clear case for how you can help the next company better than those who’ve had less of a chance to learn how to get things done.

 

The “Foolishness” of Not Preparing for Retirement

The “Foolishness” of Not Preparing for Retirement

All those boomers who can’t afford to retire may not be the losers the “experts” make them out to be.  Another big study just came out reporting that millions of people on the brink of retirement don’t have the money saved to pull it off.   That may not be a bad thing.

Perhaps it’s the people making the predictions who need to stand back and take a better look at what’s going on. If it was all that important to those people to be able to retire, they would have prepared for it. But even before the financial meltdown of the last few years, baby boomers were not seeing the retirement years as the extended vacation it’s being painted as by financial planners and real estate developers.

In a study of over 3000 boomers in 2005, the Met Life Foundation found only 17% wanted to never work for pay again once they retired. Six percent wanted to go to work full time at something else. Seventeen percent want to work part time, 16% want to own their own businesses, and 6% want to do “other” things like join the Peace Corps.

For those of you who’ve been keeping track of the arithmetic on this, that leaves 42% still unexplained. What do they want to do? Cycle in and out of work. What better way to be sure you do that than to not have the money to “stay” retired? Many who do have the money do that same thing when they retire simply because it’s more enjoyable.

As a nation, we would be wise to look at how to use this immense temporary talent pool effectively instead of lamenting the “unretireability” of the masses. If we actually put some effort into using the potential of this segment of the population instead of shaming them for not trying to be what they never wanted to be in the first place, we would all win.

Economic boon
People who are actively earning are more willing to spend money than those living on passive income–even if there’s plenty of passive income involved. Even wealthy retirees adopt frugal behaviors, partly because it’s a way to demonstrate competence. If we gave these people the chance to work even a quarter of the time, the  loosened purse strings would have a startling positive effect on the economy.

Government cost containment
People who are engaged get sick less. They don’t dwell on their health problems because they have more interesting things to do. That means fewer trips to the doctor, the hospital, and to the medical lab for Medicare to cover. Let these people work some of the time, and they will take better care of themselves simply so they can keep on doing that.  “First you retire and then you get sick” is true way too often.

Social hat trick
Work is one of the best sources of self-worth on the planet. When people get paid, they know they are good at something and that translates into a more positive attitude overall. A postivie attitude has been linked to better health, plus they are more effective contributors to the common good because they believe they can still make a difference.

In addition, getting retired workers involved on a part time basis can cut down on the workload of those in their prime work years who are stressed into illness and poor performance because of there is simply too much that they are expected to do in how we are going about it now.

Third, putting retired talent in the same place as the newest generation of workers will help develop work habits that are currently lacking in younger hires. The “old hands” can also pass down the knowledge needed to solve problems without creating new ones–knowledge there is no “app” for.

Boomers have not saved for retirement because it’s retirement itself that needs to retire. The old cultural set-up simply won’t work with such a disproportionate number in the “retiring” generation and so few in the one that follows. (There are 77 million boomers and only 40 million in Generation X.) Instead of lamenting what individuals aren’t doing, we need to be building bridges to a whole new version of this time of life.

Once you are “old enough to retire,” the desire is for flexibility, not pure leisure. If we can harness the talent available in that pool and use it to make our for profit and not-for-profit efforts more effective, we all win–again and again and again.

This notion that boomers are stupid for not “getting ready to retire” is itself stupid. What the experts are urging them to get ready for is not, and was never, what they want to do. Let’s run with reality and shape some of the work that needs to be done so it replaces retirement.

 

The Power of “Letting People Know”

The Power of “Letting People Know”

When you let people know–what you need, what you have, what you would like to do–you increase your chances of getting what you are trying to accomplish done exponentially.

I’m writing this just after doing some volunteer work at the local library–where I didn’t work much because no one knew about what I was there to do.  Not promoting my availability to do one-on-one job search counseling was a conscious decision.  They were worried too many people would want help and that many wouldn’t get it because I was only there for two hours.  But not telling anyone before the period when I was actually there meant I had a lot of time to read magazines I don’t ordinarily get to see.

It also made me stop and think about how many ways there are to benefit from “letting people know.”

The obvious one is if you are job hunting.  Letting every person who knows your name know what you are looking for is essential.  There really are only a few steps between you and what you need–just as the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon party game suggests.  (Microsoft actually tested the premise–that any two people  in the world are connected by way of no more than six intermediate people–and found it to be very close to that.)  So “let people know” if you are looking for work, projects, internship opportunities, whatever.

Last week, my brother called asking if I needed a new dishwasher.  He had just purchased one he could not return, and it didn’t work in his kitchen.  I did (need a new dishwasher).  Desperately.  One friend described mine as sounding like I was washing bowling balls.  But I had just purchased one as part of a major kitchen remodel and was within days of getting it installed.  I did, however, know of someone else who needed a new dishwasher.  So I called him…and now his family has a nice new dishwasher.

I have a wonderful hiking group that I go out with on Wednesday mornings.  I would still be yearning for the chance to get up in the mountains if I hadn’t “let someone know” that I was looking for a way to hike.

Three very different examples of the same principle:  Good things happen when you “let people know.”  This isn’t a case of “expecting” people to give you what you need.  It’s more like getting your name on the list for the Universe to work with.

Let people know…if you’d like to meet some new members of the opposite sex…if you need a handyman….if you want to wallpaper your dining room with tinfoil and are wondering just how to do that.

The power of community is one of the sweetest things about being human.  You tap into it by “letting people know.”

 

 

REAL Networking

REAL Networking

Bad assumptions about networking mean a lot of us get less than we could from it. Far less.

Real networking has nothing to do with business cards or methods of organizing them. It has nothing to do with “getting ahead.” It has nothing to do with “meet and greet” events billed as “power networking opportunities.”

Real networking—the kind that will make a difference your career and your life—is about getting to know people who are focused on what you want to be focused on and relating to them authentically.

No phony “Let’s do lunch” or “I’ll call you next week” stuff that never happens. More like “I thought you’d appreciate this article, given our conversation last week.”

Let’s get one thing straight right now. You do not network with people you don’t know. First you meet them, then you get to know them, and THEN they become part of your network. And they do so because you like them, they like you, and both of you have a common interest. It may be that your kids are on the same hockey team. It may be that you are both trying to create a better version of a fuel cell. Either way, the bond and the value to each other is built on interaction and mutual respect.

A lot of career development seminars and job search advice books tout “networking’ as THE solution to all your professional needs. And that is very close to the truth. But what they suggest is typically not anywhere close on how to create a network.

It is not done with cold calls to a bunch of people you need favors from. It‘s done via on-going engagement in what you believe in. When you are on target with your values in the way you reach out, people of the same persuasion tend to show up in your life. You meet people who are not only interested in what you are interested in; they are also folks you want to know personally. They won’t all be “BFF” material. But they will be meaningful players in your overall Game of Life.

Waiting to create a network until you need help is like waiting to put on your life jacket until after you’ve been thrown out of the speed boat. Your network should be a lifelong effort and should include people from all aspects of your life. Branch out. If you do different things with the same people all the time, you might be more comfortable with the crowd, but your network is going to be a lot more limited. The more far flung your contact base is, the more likely it will be contain what you need when it comes time for that network to serve you.

But that time should be a long way down the road. A good network is built on friendship and service. Giving any way you authentically can is the quickest and smartest way to foster its development. That might be forwarding a cogent news release, letting a friend know that another friend is looking for what they have to sell, or just calling to say “how ya doin’?” when things have been difficult. Real networking works because it’s a shared effort to live life well. It’s genuine and benefits both parties.

The “synthetic networking” that’s often recommended for job seekers is just another form of cold calling—a strategy that’s long on rejection and short on results. Cold calling to ask a very busy person for an informational interview might work, but asking a friend who knows that person to set up that call will make it work a whole lot better. (And that friend will want to help because of all the help you’ve given in the past.) The fake version is better than doing nothing at all, but it’s not anywhere close to the effectiveness of the real thing.

Networking is a time-honored life skill. Our moms did it with the neighbor women about great casserole recipes. Our dads did it with other Scout Leaders or fishing buddies. Real networking is like populating your own virtual city with great people who have all the skills, insights, access and resources you need. They may live 2000 miles away, but you still know you can count on them.

Networking enriches your life. The fact that it helps in your job search or developing your client base or finding someone to date is secondary. Build it for the long haul and build it for real.

 

Life Skills — Juggling Versus Balancing

Life Skills — Juggling Versus Balancing

 

Are you delaying all the fun so you can get all the work done?  That’s one of the saddest characteristics of today’s busy lives.  We scramble to get everything that “needs to be done” accomplished and have no time left for the activities that bring us joy.

Our approach to retirement is even more that way.  We give excessive amounts of time to a job so that we can “get retirement” once we reach a certain age.  I am a strong proponent of work.  I think we need to do it for our entire lives.  But it’s got to be in balance.  All work now for all play later is just plain dumb.  You need to play now.  (And you need to work at something once you retire, even if it’s not for pay.)

I hear your groans.  I’ve been in your shoes.  It really is hard to find two seconds to catch your breath much less an entire hour to take a yoga class—or a hike in the hills–sometimes.  But there’s a life skill we aren’t learning with the way we are doing this, and maybe it’s time to circle back and pick that one up.  We need to learn to balance.

Notice I did not say “juggle.”  Most of us are doing too much of that, keeping more and more balls in the air.   No, I said balance. That’s about adding and taking away.  To achieve balance, you put a little more on one side of the scale or take a little off of the other.  For most of us, we need to take away some of the minutes we put on work and add some for play—or at least leisure.  But how?

An interesting thing happens when you only have a certain amount of time to get something done.  You work faster.  Things come together more easily.  You’re more focused.  The end result when you “don’t have enough time” is often better than what you do on a regular basis.  Why?

I suspect it’s because we don’t let ourselves get distracted as easily.  We don’t buy in on other people’s problems when they walk into your cube dressed as friends.  We don’t let ourselves waste one minute on non-essential stuff.  We are “on task.”

What would happen if we used that strategy at work all the time as a way to make room for play?  And then guarded our play time like a mama bear?

The obvious problem on the work side is the potential for being assigned more work.  This is not about working three hours and then taking a two hour lunch every day.  This is about not staying ridiculously late or bringing work home.  This is about adding time for yourself in the part of your day that’s supposed to be yours.

What if you’re retired?  In my experience, the advice is every bit as valid.  We do the laundry, clean the gutters, repair the back screen, and take a load to the recycling center before we get out the sketch book or grab the camera and head to the wildlife refuge.  We do the work first.  At least if we ever subscribed to the notion of being “good workers.”

This “do the work first” mantra screws up the scales of balance. When “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today” applies only to the work part of our days, that’s all we end up doing.   We need to spread that idea between work and play.

Find a balance scale and put away your juggling balls.  Repeat after me:  “Fun is an essential part of daily life.  Fun is good.  I will have fun today.”