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Archive for February, 2011

Anti-Aging Advice: Stand Up Straight

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

You can spend lots of money to look younger, but sometimes, the no-cost stuff will get you farther faster.  Take, for example, your posture.

As kids we’d get reminded. “Sit up straight!”….”Don’t slouch.”… “Stop hunching–you look like a Neaderthal.” It would be nice if we still got those nudges now that we are “all grown up”. But we don’t.

Yet how you carry yourself makes a strong statement about how vital you are. And that translates into how the world sees you on the “aging” continuum.

It’s not just a matter of leaving it to chance either. The deck is stacked against us–toward having bad posture. The couches and chairs we use when we relax encourage us to “lounge” rather than giving our spines good support. Our work and the rest of the responsibilities in our busy lives breed stress. Stress usually results in hunching–shoulders pushed forward and down instead of back.

Good back health demands good posture–which some experts claim is why so many of us now have back problems. And once the bad habits are formed, getting rid of them is a lot harder than learning them was.

What happens when you stand up–and sit up–straight? You can take more oxygen into your lungs. Your line of vision is higher. When I do it, I also breath more deeply and evenly. It just plain feels better.

But it also looks better.

Try this in front of the mirror:
Get yourself all stressed out about something and then check what you look like. Make it even worse on purpose–stoop forward and hunch. Notice the difference in your breathing? Notice how gravity wants to pull you down?

Now reverse it. Stand as tall as you can with your feet fully planted on the floor (no tiptoes). Pull your shoulders back and down directly over your hips. Look ahead. Tuck in your butt.  Now take some deep breaths. It’s a whole difference experience of your body, right? More pleasant, more vibrant, and yes, younger feeling.

We have the option of doing this all the time. When we do, we look different to anyone we meet. Why the vast majority of us don’t use this strategy is beyond me. Except that I have to admit I forget way too often myself.

Standing tall is good for your back, your lung capacity, and your looks.

And it’s free!! No pills to take. No down time while you recover from plastic surgery.  What a deal.

Writing a Killer 50+ Resume

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

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 irate 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.

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 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.


Go Play!

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Play isn’t just for kids, and we need to get better at it. These days, instead of playing, most of us watch. Football. Tennis. Soccer. A movie.

They may be interesting, but they’re nowhere near as therapeutic as doing something yourself. Being totally immersed in fun for a few hours can be as soothing as going on vacation for a week if you get really absorbed in what you are doing. “Watching” allows way to much room for distraction.  For thinking about work or a problem with your kid or the political situation

The concept of play is not simple in our culture though. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary uses over 600 words to define “play”—and that’s just as a verb. (In contrast, the same dictionary uses less than 80 words to define “god” in its various uses.) How do you know that what you’re doing is the kind of play you really need to stay healthy and happy?

Do the things that intrigue you. The best clue about what’s good play for you is that it piques your interest. You may notice something about it in a magazine and read the whole article instead of just flipping on, as you usually do. You may get into a conversation about it with someone you don’t know or have barely met—and discover an hour has passed while you were learning more. You may find yourself in an unusual section of a bookstore or sporting goods outlet “just to see.” It’s usually not something you do because a friend suggests it would be fun.

Sometimes, you don’t even know what will intrigue you. That’s fine. Just honor it when it shows up. You don’t have to plan out how you will attract it, post progress as you search for it, or otherwise beat it to death with rational input. Play just needs to get beyond “should.” What you like to do is where the sweet spot of your life exists. Honoring that makes what you have to get done a lot easier.

DO something. Play is not simply “not working.” Play is an active verb. Play involves personal engagement. Watching a baseball game is not play—being out on the field is. Play honors who you are at your core with highly enjoyable action.

Sometimes play involves unpleasant circumstances. On one particular hike, it rained so hard I had to wring out my socks when I finally got to take them off. It was still fun to be out on the trail. Even when the physical situation is less than ideal, play feels good because what you’re doing resonates as part of the real you. That’s why fishermen are on the lake at dawn in the fog and kids on the track team run laps in the dark. If it’s something you really want to do, conditions will not deter you.

Get all you can—in small pieces if necessary. Waiting “until I retire” or for “after the kids are grown” just makes you less of yourself in the meantime. You don’t need massive blocks of time to play. Maybe you don’t have time to learn all there is to know about watercolor. Putz with it for an hour or two on a Friday night. Plant a few pots of geraniums when you don’t have time to re-landscape the whole yard like you want to. Go for snack size bits of play if you don’t have time to become totally submersed. Those little treats can change your entire perspective on life.

There’s another reason to get little bits of play in now. Often, what we think we love is really just a stepping stone on the path to the real thing. Little steps will help you get into what you want to explore without spending tons of time and money on stuff you might not need once you see the whole picture.

Play is not an all or nothing thing. Grab all the little bits of it you can when life is busy. In the short term, play helps you deal with the stress of having too much to do. In the long haul, it makes for a rich, inexhaustable list of stuff you want to spend more time on when you have it.


An Adventure in “Customer Service”

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Today I dealt first hand with why the US is not doing as well as we want in the global economy.  We push for “volume” and “efficiency” and “lower cost per unit” and forget the point of doing anything in the first place–serving a customer.  This time around, it was UPS.  Tomorrow it may be Safeway.  (Come to think of it, a year ago it was Safeway.)

This situation occurred because the second print run of Supercharged Retirement had a problem with the cover.  Everything was shifted off center and looked incredibly amateur.

I let my publisher know and they were great about taking responsibility for getting the problem resolved.  The next step was for me to overnight them the copy I had reviewed so we were sure they were looking at the same thing I had.  They gave me their UPS account number to use for the transaction.

Piece of cake, right?  There’s a UPS Store eight blocks from my house.  I was there five minutes later.  When I explained what I was trying to do to the woman behind the counter, things started to unravel.  “We’re not allowed to generate shipping documents for specific accounts.  You have to do it online.”

So I drove home and went online.  Not so fast.  You need the ID and password to get into the account online.  Great.  I called the 800 number listed on the website.  After mashing the “0” persistently, I finally got to a human–Robert, who had a heavy hispanic accent.  When I asked bluntly where he was located, he told me “Central America” quite proudly.  Robert had no clue was what going on in Tacoma, Washington, but he was supposed to “help” me.

He advised me to go to the nearest drop box for the shipping document I needed and gave me the location and the name of the bank at which it was located–except that bank does not exist anymore.

I found the drop box in front of what is now a Wells Fargo branch and searched the shelves that held shipping supplies.  Lots of “2nd Day Air” forms but just one that said “express” (among other things).  I needed to get it to the publisher overnight, so I took the form that was not “2nd Day Air. It looked like it had been there since 1997.

Just to be sure I returned to my local UPS Store to confirm I had the right form.  Nope.  She had no idea where to get one and suggested I call the “800” number again.  Back to Central America.  This time “Sheila” told me I needed to go to a UPS Customer Service Center.  The counter clerk had no idea they existed.  The nearest one is ten miles from where I live.

If I had simply wanted to be done with the task, I would have just put it on my own account with FedEx and considered the cost worth the avoided brain damage.  But I was curious.  How ridiculous would this get before I actually got it accomplished?

I drove to the Customer Service Center and, ta dah!  They had the right form, and they knew how to use it.  I got the package shipped with no further hassle.  (The clerk also suggested a glass of wine might make the whole experience seem a bit funnier. )

This is not a unique experience.  You can probably regale me with horror stories far worse.  The reason I write about it is because this is all we have to look forward to until companies start to recognize that using people who can only answer questions from a cheat sheet aren’t a satisfying resource when the problem isn’t a cookie cutter one.  And having people staffing your retail outlets who don’t have a clue about how to solve a problem is even more ineffective.

This time around, I was only sending one book overnight express.  But I never know what I’m going to be dabbling in next.  I may invent some kind of exotic dirt that has me shipping tons of stuff, literally.  I promise it won’t be via UPS.  I also described this adventure in detail to the the publishing house.  Their reply:  “The whole point of these account codes is to avoid all the run-around!”  Perhaps they will ship all the stuff they send out everyday a different way, too.  That would be just.

Why do I write about this here?  Because the superstars of customer service are the boomers.  We grew up engaged with people rather than texting to the friend standing 3 feet away.  If UPS…and Safeway and others…want to get this right, they should be looking at older workers who understand what “customer service” is really about to staff those positions.