Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Update Your Website

January 26, 2011

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

January is a good time to capitalize on all that New Year energy floating around and make changes to your life that you’ve been meaning to enact for quite some time but haven’t quite gotten around to.

In this spirit, I recently made a beeline to the very bottom of my “long” To Do list and pulled something off of there that’s been chipping away at the outer edges of mind for ages: my website.

I’m a writer, you see, so having a reasonably attractive, fully-functional website that succinctly showcases both my background and my current projects is crucial for – well – staying employed.

A writer’s website doesn’t have to be anything fancy – and indeed, mine isn’t. (You can check it out here.) But it does need to look grown up and professional and be user-friendly.

Which my old one just wasn’t.

So this week’s tip list goes out to all writers, near and far, though the lessons should hopefully prove useful to anyone who has a resume that they haven’t looked at in a while.

Here are five reasons to update your website:

1. You update your links. Subscribe to just about any blog about freelance writing and one of the first posts you’ll come across is one that reminds you to always, always, always create PDFs of everything you write Online. And that’s because while it’s generally true that things live forever on the internet, plenty of publications will  – without warning – decide to yank your URLs and not link to them anymore. While I’m sure there’s some way to retrieve them if you know someone on staff, if you don’t, you’re SOL. When I started building my new website, I was amazed at how many of my links no longer went to the original articles. And that’s just not O.K. if the whole point of having a website is to showcase your writing. As a friend of mine once said about his application to law school, “Given that I pretty much wrote it in crayon, I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t accept me.” My old website was not written in crayon, but it did lack a certain gravitas. And having links that went nowhere was part of the problem.

2. You stop procrastinating. In addition to the relief that flowed after completing this large task that had been bothering me for – oh, about two yearsrevamping my website also forced me to stop procrastinating on some of the smaller side-projects that flowed from the re-design. To wit: linking to my audio files. I used to work in radio, you see, but for reasons that still elude me, I couldn’t upload all of my audio files to my old website. So I just ignored them, and buried them on my hard drive in places I knew I wouldn’t encounter. But once I confronted the beast and re-did the website, I finally got around to linking to the audio. So now you can listen, for example, to why I *really* embrace such a green lifestyle here in London.

3. You learn new skills. Commensurate with #2, I now know how to update audio files to WordPress.com. O.K., O.K., that’s admittedly not as impressive as blogging in Mandarin or learning to write code, but for the technologically challenged amongst us, I feel like I’ve stepped up my game.

4. You see how far you’ve come. If you haven’t updated your resume or your website in a while, I’d encourage you to go and take a gander. You may be surprised by what you find. Among other things – and particularly if you’ve taken on a new job and/or career in recent years – you’ll see how far you’ve come from when you were just a newbie. In my case, while perusing my old website, I came across a menu called “Op Eds and Guest Blog Posts.” “What’s This?” I wondered to myself. And when I opened it, I happened upon the very first blog post I ever wrote – for The Urban Muse – about academic blogs. I wrote this back in February, 2008, a full year before I launched RealDelia. And I wrote it precisely because I wanted to test the waters and see what this whole “blogging thing” was all about…

5. You reconceptualize yourself. In a recent post on career change, I made the rather unconventional suggestion that you apply for a job before you’re really ready in order to practice re-imagining yourself doing something new. Updating your website offers a similar benefit. It forces you to provide a narrative of yourself – if not several – that gives you a language for presenting yourself professionally.

*****

For great tips on website re-design, I highly recommend Marci Alboher’s amazing book, One Person, Multiple Careers: A New Model For Work/Life Success.)

Image: Crayons by GenBug via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


Continuing Education: The Importance of Experimentation

June 10, 2010

I went to a three-hour lesson on pod-casting on Sunday afternoon. It was the first in a two-part course I’m taking at London’s adult learning centre, CityLit. The course is designed to introduce beginners to the art of internet broadcasting.

I’m a big fan of taking classes in adulthood. Since moving to London four years ago, I’ve taken classes in fiction writing and acting. In Chicago, I took classes in freelance writing and memoir. And once, many moons ago, I took a class in beginning Hebrew (not to mention the continuing ed. class to end all continuing ed. classes: I’m Jewish, You’re Not.)

According to a report released jointly by the Penn State University Office of Outreach Marketing and Communications and University Continuing Education Association in 2006, up to 45 percent of colleges and university enrollment in the United States is from adult learners. Revenues for continuing education rose 67 percent at the institutions surveyed in this report from 2004.

People go back to school as grown-ups for lots of different reasons. Sometimes, it’s to pursue a hobby. You try something new (or return to something old.) You meet new people. You get out of your comfort zone. Above all, you have fun. (And yes, for the record, I’m still eyeing that course at CityLit entitled Actors Singing From West End to Broadway.)

Sometimes you go back to school because you need to re-tool professionally. From 2008 to 2018, the labor force is projected to grow more diverse and have more workers age 55 and older. Simultaneously, the highest-paying jobs – those that require at least a bachelor’s degree – are expected to increase at a rate faster than that of overall job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. So it’s  a good bet that we’ll be seeing more Americans – particularly boomers – sharpening their pencils and buying new notebooks as they gear up for a second or third career.

But the main advantage of adult education is that it enables you to experiment. Chris Brogan – guru of all things social media – talked about this recently. Brogan thinks about experimentation in terms of labs. (He’s currently experimenting with a new travel site called Man On The Go.)

His main point is that experimentation is crucial to growth. Why? Because you test drive new ideas. You collaborate. You enjoy the fun of failure, as Gretchen Rubin likes to put it. Above all, you create ideas of your own, rather than just reporting on the ideas of others.

Which is why I’m learning how to podcast. I’m not yet sure exactly how I’ll incorporate podcasting into my life, and whether it will be more of a hobby or something that I use in work. But I have a few ideas. More importantly, I know that if I don’t start experimenting now – creating a lab, as it were – I’ll never find out.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll be the next Cezanne

*****

Apologies that my weekly tips for adulthood post did not appear yesterday. Due to the editing schedule over at www.PoliticsDaily.com, that particular post will come out next week.

*****

And speaking of Politics Daily, be sure to check out my post today on the new Pro-Islam ads running in London. It’s kind of the UK’s answer to the whole “What Would Jesus Do?” campaign. Except that it’s “What Would Mohammed Do?” Check it out…

Image: Podcasting by hawaii via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons Fish Tank Is For Grown Ups

May 26, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Here’s a suggestion for what you ought to do over the upcoming Memorial Day (U.S.)/Bank holiday weekend (U.K.): rent a little movie that came out last year called Fish Tank.

It’s often billed as the U.K.’s answer to Precious. Which is to say that both films treat the subject of poverty, sexuality, dysfunctional families and abuse within an urban setting. But the American film has more of an uplifting, Oprah-esque touch while the British film is raw and bleak. (A bit like the difference between the American and British versions of the television show, The Office.)

I haven’t seen Precious yet, so I can’t speak to the comparison. But I can say that as someone who likes her films sunny side down, Fish Tank really spoke to me and has stayed with me long after I finished watching it.

And I think – like Up In The Air, but for entirely different reasons – it’s also a film about adulthood. Here’s why:

1. It’s about toughness and vulnerability. Once you set eyes on the film’s protagonist – Mia- a scrappy 15-year-old whose life is upended when her mother’s new boyfriend moves in, you won’t take your eyes off of her. Part of this is the fresh, compelling performance by the young actress, Katie Jarvis. But what makes Mia so appealing is that she is in equal measure both tough (she punches a few faces along the way) and vulnerable. (Beneath the toughness we see how painful she finds her social isolation, her verbally abusive mother, and her sexual longing for someone out of her reach.) And that’s what growing up is all about, isn’t it? Learning how to live with disappointment and fear, but also how to protect ourselves from getting hurt.

2. You fall in love with the wrong people. Love Stinks, as the immortal J. Geils Band once told us. And it’s true. At some point in your life – and possible more than once – you inevitably fall in love with the wrong person. They’re too old. They’re too young. They’re married. They’re gay. They’re straight. They live in Timbuktu. It doesn’t matter why. It just can’t work out.  And when Mia looks at her lover who can’t remain her lover for all sorts of reasons, your heart will sink along with hers in recognition of this fundamental truth.

3. Alcohol heals and damages.  When you’re young, it’s liberating to finally sneak that first sip of alcohol. And let’s face it, as you get older, it’s fun to get drunk once in a while. And sometimes – when you’ve been dumped or fired or just had a really bad day – a drink can really help. But when Mia’s 9 or 10 year-old sister starts sipping from a beer can – and you’ve already seen what drinking has done to Mia and especially her mother – you recoil from the image. And you just want to rip the beer can out of her hand. It’s such a fine line, drinking. It’s fun and yet  it can so easily get the best of us. But it takes awhile to figure that out. Ditto sex. But I won’t spoil the movie.

4. Social Class matters. As I wrote in an earlier post about why The Elegance of the Hedgehog is for grown ups – social class is one of those concepts that you can only appreciate once you’re grown up. The idea that where you start often determines where you end up. The idea that if you have no role models they are difficult to invent. The fact that societies don’t often know what to do with the so-called “underclass” – even when it lives right down the road. All of these themes are explored in this film.

5. Having a passion helps. If there’s an uplifting note in this movie, it is Mia’s love of dance. Even though she usually dances alone – in an abandoned council flat (public housing apartment) while drinking beer – dancing brings her joy and may well be her emancipation if she can just figure out what to do with it. It is even one way she manages to connect with her mother. I’ve written before about how important it is to start with what you like and what you’re good at if you want to make a meaningful change in your life. You don’t have to be Baryshnikov. You just need to be passionate about something. Anything. And start there.


Image: Tiny Dancer by Tiziano Caviglia via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Personality Tests: Do We Actually Change as We Grow Older?

August 3, 2009

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to personality tests lately.

First, The New York Times reported that the psychological profession is up in arms because Wikipedia has reproduced a set of common answers to the famous Rorschach inkblot tests. The psychologists claim that the site is jeopardizing one of the oldest, continuously used psychological assessment tests.

I also happened to take a personality test on Facebook last week. It was the “Which punctuation Mark Are You?” quiz. Here’s my answer, with explanation included:

You are a comma.

You like to spread yourself a little thin, trying to be all things to all people. A bit of a control freak, you try to do the work of 10 people. Relax! Let someone else shoulder some of the burden for once!

Which isn’t so bad, in and of itself, except that it duplicated every personality test I’ve ever taken in my life. I took the first one – the famous Myers Briggs test – when I was first out of college. That’s the one where they evaluate you on four dimensions: extroversion vs. introversion, intuition vs. sensing, thinking vs. feeling and judging vs. perceiving. Then you’re assigned a type. I was an “ENTJ” (extroverted/intuitive/thinking/judging), which turned out to be the most extreme of the 16 potential combinations you could wind up with. I raised my hand and asked the consultant what you called it if you had a borderline score on a couple of dimensions – suggesting that perhaps you might easily fall into another “type” – but nonetheless ended up in the 16th box?

“That’s called denial,” she retorted briskly.

Years later, I took another personality test in when I was working in public radio. This time, the categories were a bit different, but the result was basically the same:  I came out as “high dominant” or “High D” for short. The consultant gave everyone a print-out of their results. The idea was to go home and review the list of behaviors associated with your type and use that to improve office harmony with co-workers of different stripes. But the person who seemed to benefit most from the hand-out was not me, but my husband. I came home from work one evening to find him sitting on the sofa – glass of Merlot in hand – poring over the document as if it were an original Shakespeare. He was clearly relishing every word, pausing from time to time to quote back to me from the report about typical “High D” behaviors.

Particularly as we settle into middle-age, it’s natural to want to re-examine who we are and where we’re headed in life. And personality tests are one tool to help us do that. I’m also sure that on some level I should be reassured that my own results are so unerringly consistent across the decades – what statisticians call test reliability.

Still, as someone who has defined herself largely on her ability and willingness to change, I find it a tad depressing to discover – once again – that we actually don’t change all that much over the course of our lives.

How about you? Have you ever taken a personality test and what did you learn about yourself that you didn’t already know?

Image: Rorschach Test by Marie.Carrion via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: How To Figure Out If You’re A Manager or a Maker

July 29, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve written before about how – on many of the world’s most pressing issues – most people sort neatly into one of two camps: Coke vs. Pepsi. Boxers vs. Briefs. Pet vs. Anti-pet.

In keeping with this concept, the Freakonomics blog linked yesterday to a fascinating post by a guy named Paul Graham about what he calls “managers vs. makers.”

On one side of the divide, you have a group of workers – usually managers – who divided their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job. On the other side, you have what he calls “makers” – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – who need large blocks of time to carry out tasks and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity.

While the thrust of Graham’s article is to make each type more sensitive to the style/needs of the other sort of worker, figuring out which sort of worker you are before you embark on a career choice could also save you time and headaches down the road. (Trust me. I myself have a maker’s soul trapped in a manager’s body, which probably explains my own schizophrenic career choices along the way.)

To that end, here are five ways to figure out if you’re a maker or a manager:

1. Do you like working in increments of one hour or three hours? If one, you’re a manager. If three, you’re a maker. I have one friend who claims that she can be productive in 20 minutes. She is definitely a manager.

2. Does the prospect of a meeting fill you with anticipation or dread? My husband – the quintessential maker (he’s an academic) – hates going to meetings. Me? Despite being a writer, I love them. They’re social, they bring focus to the day and, most of all, they provide at least the possibility of getting something out the door (which, if you’re a writer/artist/fill-in-the-blank creative type is often elusive.)

3. Do you always have Outlook calendar open on your computer? And do you actually use it? If yes, you’re a manager. You like to schedule things. If no, you’re a maker.

4. Do you ever forget meetings? As Graham notes, one of the problems with meetings if you’re a maker is that you have to remember them. I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten a meeting in my life. But I know plenty of makers who get so caught up in whatever they are doing (I name no names) that they completely lose track of time.

5. Are you on twitter? All social networking requires that you spend a certain amount of your day away from whatever it is that you do. But Twitter – because it is so fast and furious – is the uber-managerial 2.0 tool. When used religiously, it forces you to constantly interrupt yourself to tweet an update about your life, mention an article, or react to breaking news.

How about you? Where do you fall on the manager/maker scale?

Oops, sorry. Gotta run. I have a meeting to get to…

Image: MYSTlore News and Events in Outlook 2003 by Soren “chucker” Kuklau via Flickr Under a Creative Commons License

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The Two Faces of Delia: Adopting A Nom de Plume In Adulthood

July 9, 2009

I have a confession to make:  Delia Lloyd is not my real name.

I felt like I needed to come clean because I joined Facebook yesterday. (Yes, I’m one of those octogenarians driving up the average user’s age.)

And because for me, Facebook is primarily a personal social networking tool (at least for now), I decided to join under my legal name – which is….drum roll please…Delia Boylan. So just in case you cyber-stalked me in the last 24 hours and noticed the same head shot, same bio, same appallingly bad taste in music:  yes, it’s me.

And the whole process of coming to that decision made me think, again, about my name.

I’ve always hated my given name. For starters, it makes me sound like an Irish scullery maid. And then there’s the small problem that no one – in the U.S. at least – can seem to remember it. I’ve grown accustomed to answering to pretty much anything that begins with a D, including “Dee.”

When I was a kid, I disliked my name so much that once – during a high school production of Dames At Sea – I was given the chance to make up my own name for my part (I was in the chorus.) While the other girls eagerly chose things like “Tiffany” and “Sparkle,” I chose – wait for it – Ann. That’s right. Ann. I was dying to have a normal name.

Later on, when I got married and had made my peace with Delia, I still had the (easy) opportunity to change my last name. And while all kinds of different friends weighed in on the politics of whether or not to take my husband’s name, that was an easy one for me. I didn’t like his surname either. So I stuck with Delia Boylan.

But then, round about 2001, I changed careers and decided that as part of the psychological move out of academia and into journalism, I would take on an entirely new persona. And whether because of an inspired moment or because I simply lacked much imagination, I chose my husband’s first name – Lloyd – to use as my last name professionally. (I like to tell people that it’s post-post-feminist…no one knows what to do with that).

My old boss once asked me how it felt to use the name Delia Lloyd, to which I responded: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” She looked a bit puzzled. So I sheepishly added: “I mean, next to having my two kids and marrying my lovely husband and all that.”

But it’s true. Whereas once I felt a little pang every time I had to utter my real name, once I started using “Delia Lloyd” on a regular basis, I found that I loved it. (And as a producer for a daily talk show I spent eight hours a day on the phone, so I quickly got a lot of practice…)

There aren’t all that many things you can change about yourself once you grow up. You’re pretty much stuck with your hair, eye color, stature, what have you.  But adopting a new name – even if it’s a nom de plume – can be really liberating. It’s like changing careers. You get to reinvent yourself and that very fact introduces a little frisson into your life.

I realize that there may be professional drawbacks and confusions with this down the line. Penelope Trunk maintains that you should only blog under your legal name. (She would know. She ended up changing her legal name to match her blogging “handle.”)  But other people – like Colleen Wainwright, a.k.a. the Communicatrix – seem happy to move between the two.

As for me, right now I’m really loving the opportunity to move between the two faces of Eve Delia. Its just one more variant on slash careers!

*****

Speaking of slashes, I’m also loving my new blogging job over at PoliticsDaily.com. Have a look at this week’s posts, one on the G8 Summit and the other on the evolving Murdoch media scandal in the U.K.

Two-Faced Tasha 1 by sethrt via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Slash Careers Within Writing: My New Stint at Politics Daily

June 29, 2009

As I’ve said several times before on this blog, I’m a big fan of slash careers. Having multiple professional identities is a great way to make a living as a freelancer (particularly during a recession).  It’s also a great way – especially if you’re a writer – to exercise different parts of your brain. In my case, it helps to explain why I’ve been such an avid fundraiser for my children’s school over the past few years.

But another way to keep yourself stimulated as a writer is to slash within your writing. I know a political scientist who also writes children’s songs. One of my favorite writers – Anne Lamott – has written a best-selling parenting memoir, Operating Instructions, a “how to” book on writing, Bird By Bird, as well as several novels. My guess is that there’s something about moving around within all these different genres that keeps her alive as a writer.

In that vein, I’m delighted to announce that I’ve become a contributor to a new political webzine in Washington, D.C. called Politics Daily. I’ll be writing two posts a week for their Woman Up column (where – and I quote – “big girl panties are always a fit,”) as well as occasional features.

My first feature – an interview with an international legal scholar here in the U.K. about the ongoing torture debate in the U.S. – ran on Friday. Check it out here and leave a comment if you dare! (Buyer Beware: I’m coming to learn that the comment section on political websites can be a scary place…be sure to wear your own plus-sized boxers/briefs/panties/thongs/undergarments/what-have-you if you plan on going there…).

For me, this new gig is particularly exciting because it allows me to fuse my background in politics/policy analysis and journalism back into my writing career. In the last few years, I’ve been working as a freelance writer, focusing mainly on personal essays, blogging and fiction. But before that, I worked as a producer for Chicago Public Radio. And before that, I taught political science at the University of Chicago.

So it felt great to roll up my sleeves and dive back into the sort of research, interviewing and reporting that goes into being a journalist. And it was also a lot of fun to return to the sorts of international topics that I once taught and wrote about as a scholar. Above all, however, the experience confirmed for me – once again – that careers really don’t have to be linear anymore. These days, it’s all about the kaleidoscope, baby.

I’ll be sure to highlight pieces I write for Politics Daily when they are relevant to RealDelia.

In the meantime, take a moment to think about your own slash careers – real or potential. What sorts of things have you added or would you like to add to your career portfolio?

Image: Reporter’s Notebook, US Version by Nicla via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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