To Plan B, From Point A. 3 Inspiring Stories of Over-40 Entrepreneurs!

A recent networking event held in New York City perfectly captured its theme and promise of inspiring women who want to get “From Point A to Plan B.” The event featured three of my new favorite, inspiring, over-40 women entrepreneurs, all of whom DARE beyond what’s expected of them, and not one of them comes off as “super-woman.”

What they do possess is tremendous DRIVE; they work hard to ADVANCE their plans – and to refresh or reboot when necessary; they want to RULE their platforms, in the most productive and constructive way possible; and they are all at a point in their lives where they want to EXPRESS their experience and expertise.

Here is the first in a series of blogs featuring three amazing women.

Enjoy a snapshot of each woman’s story and be inspired!

jan mercer dahms1) Jan Mercer Dahms: Founder of image consulting and brand experience management company: JanMercerDahms.com

The host of the “From Point A to Plan B” event,  Jan Mercer Dahms, has been bringing together women in various venues in Manhattan over the past year, through her national networking group for successful executive women, known as“6-Figures – Professional Women. Her generosity in sharing her experience and expertise as a nonprofit executive is as powerful as her drive in planning and staging her events. Jan also happens to be the very busy CFO of International Planned Parenthood.

Wearing multiple hats at the same time seems perfect for her. As she puts it, “it keeps the creative juices flowing freely.” Entrepreneurial through and through, her career has spanned fashion, cosmetics, dermatological pharmaceuticals, media, and education. With an MBA in International Business, Jan has held executive-level finance positions, including leadership positions for organizations such as Teach For America and Medicis Pharma. In 2010, she launched Jan Mercer Dahms & Co.

What I love about Jan is her enthusiasm about her work as a cause, one that brings together like-minded motivated women who share their challenges as well as triumphs in the world of work. I know this because I practically monopolized her at another event recently, asking her dozens of questions regarding a nonprofit that I am interested in. Jan patiently answered all of them, and then some. I also learned that she is originally from Nebraska, and since the Midwest has always been the bastion of courteous and kind personalities, then Jan Mercer Dahms should be its official ambassador!

For more information about Jan Mercer Dahms, click here

Stay tuned for Part Two coming soon!

I will be featuring:

Christi Scofield, President and Founder, Ice Breaker Entertainment: www.icebreakerentertainment.com, a highly successful consumer products company selling books, games, school supplies, t-shirts, iPhone apps, and more.

AND

Gurjot Sidhu, CEO and founder of Gurjot NewYork: www.gurjotnewyork.com, an upscale clothing firm for women.

 

High There! – High-rise over 40!

woman trapezeThe education industry offers us literally millions of options for expanding the depth and breadth of our brainpower, from womb to tomb. Yet, there’s an assumption within some industries and organizations that when someone has reached the age of 50 and beyond, they are no longer in the classification that talent management gurus call “high potentials.” The term “high potential” refers to individuals an organization should devote the majority of its efforts to mentor, sponsor and retain.  Harvard Business Review, among others, has published numerous articles on the topic of high potentials, a recent one in 2010[1], excerpted here:

“…High potentials consistently and significantly outperform their peer groups in a variety of settings and circumstances. While achieving these superior levels of performance, they exhibit behaviors that reflect their companies’ culture and values in an exemplary manner. Moreover, they show a strong capacity to grow and succeed throughout their careers within an organization—more quickly and effectively than their peer groups do.”

In some firms, it is often presumed – mistakenly – that these behaviors are most attributable to younger, presumably more energetic, employees. When I was a young, aggressive, frenetic manager I worked to my full capacity to be fiercely competitive, running a robust portfolio of business for large ad agencies yet was always on the lookout for more revenue, and was fairly well-compensated (almost) for my skills. But I was not as loyal to “companies’ culture” as the definition above would suggest. And now when I think back to all of the things I did not know when I was younger I want to laugh out loud.

The fact of the matter is that I was well into my forties when I learned the most valuable lessons of my personal and professional life. Among these is how to be a good leader of people, beyond knowing how to manage a P&L. Becoming a leader, one of my favorite business-school professors confirmed when I decided to pursue my MBA in my mid-50s, is not something that can be taught. It must be learned through experience.

brain partsScientists ranging from prenatal experts to gerontologists assert there are nine different types of intelligence. And throughout our lives we don’t need to compartmentalize ourselves into just one of them! Just because you reach a certain age and become known for your math (or juggling) skills, it doesn’t mean you can’t suddenly discover an amazing talent for painting (arts, or another form of the nine kinds of intelligence) that you never knew you had.  So, just because you’re reached “high performer” in one skill doesn’t mean you’re DONE reaching your high potential as a human relative to some other skill.

That someone over 40 may not be considered a high-potential is unfair, yes, but it is often the perception. If this is the perception you have of yourself, there’s no excuse for that! 

Here’s just a short list of ideas, articles and books that should change your mind, literally and figuratively, about how much there still is to learn and develop your own high potential:

book pen notepad1) The New York Times: OPINION: “Fast Time and the Aging Mind,” by Richard A. Friedman, July 20. 2013.  Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psycho-pharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College. posits: “Is it possible that learning new things might slow our internal sense of time?” My favorite passage is this:

“…It’s simple: if you want time to slow down, become a student again. Learn something that requires sustained effort; do something novel. Put down the thriller when you’re sitting on the beach and break out a book on evolutionary theory or Spanish for beginners or a how-to book on something you’ve always wanted to do. Take a new route to work; vacation at an unknown spot. And take your sweet time about it.”[2]

2) The New York Times: PREOCCUPATIONS: “She Turned Her Upspeak Down a Notch, by Jessica Grose, July 27, 2013.  As the Times call out summarized it: “A freelance journalist was tired of sources thinking that she sounded like a little girl on the phone. So she set out to change her voice.”[3]  Think an “uptick” is the bailiwick of the young? Think again! I hear so many women over the age of 40 using an “uptick” in their speaking style that it reminds me not so much of the so-called “valley girls” that supposedly started the trend but of an antiquated time of deference and asking permission that smacks of pre-Mad Men secretarial pools.

3) The “Gravitas Guru,” Raleigh Mayer: One of my favorite executive coaches in New York is a woman named Raleigh Mayer,  who rightly calls herself “The Gravitas Guru.” She rightly puts enthusiastic women of all ages through paces to break out of habits that include poor grooming, ill-fitting shoes and speaking as if every sentence is a question. And, she does it with total aplomb and the utmost courtesy, even as she gets everyone to laugh at themselves.

time keeping watch4) From The New York Times: APP SMART: “To Manage Time, Track Time and Pass the Time, by Kit Eaton, June 26, 2013. As the Times call out summarized it: “When they aren’t listening to music or playing a game on their devices, people who work from home can stay on task with a range of productivity apps.” [4]  As a career-long time tracker and “billable hour” monitor, I long ago developed the habit of tracking my time for productivity and also as a planning tool before I even sit down to work. Most experienced adults know how important this is, perhaps even better than our younger colleagues do.

5) From The New York Times: BUCKS BLOG: “Helping Older Americans Avoid Swindles,” by Ann Carrns. As Ms. Carrns in the Times call out summarizes: “A new educational tool from the F.D.I.C., called “Money Smart for Older Americans,” aims to help people protect themselves against financial abuses.”[5] 

Finally: Even when – and especially if – there seems to be more of an alarming trend against hiring older workers, don’t rule out the capacity to expand your own high potential through various productive and constructive means that don’t have to cost a fortune.  

If you’re still unconvinced, lift your spirits (and your potential) by reading the cover story in the July 8-15, 2013 issue of TIME Magazine, entitled: “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  That will help you get on the high road to developing your potential. It’s likely there’s a long stretch of highway and miles to go before you sleep.

highway white line

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Ready, Douglas A., Conger, Jay A., Hill, Linda A., (2010, June) Are You a High Potential? Harvard Business Review, Retrieved from http://hbr.org/2010/06/are-you-a-high-potential/ar/1

[2] Friedman, Richard A., (2013, July 20) Fast Time and the Aging Mind. The New York Times: Opinion. Retrieved from http://nyti.ms/13UmKa2.

[3] Grosse, Jessica, (2013, July 27) She Turned Her Upspeak Down a Notch, The New York Times: Preoccupations. Retrieved from http://nyti.ms/13cNCQ9.

[4] Eaton, Kit, (2013, June 26), To Manage Time, Track Time and Pass the Time, The New York Times: App Smart. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/e/kit_eaton/index.html

[5] Carrns, Ann, (2013, June 13), Helping Older Americans Avoid Swindles, The New York Times, Buck’s Blog. Retrieved from. http://nyti.ms/18CtGdj.

It’s Never Too Early and Never Too Late – Two young enterprising careerists demonstrate.

Most of us by now have learned that using the term “seasoned executive” is a sure turnoff to many of today’s younger hiring managers, some of whom look as if they could be our kids but in fact are now our supervisors. They’re learning early how to Drive, Advance, Rule and Express their Experience and Expertise.

Make no mistake that they are running the new world, and we must run along with them, run faster than them, or run and hide from them. For me and other women over 40 who DARE, the last choice isn’t even an option. I say we challenge ourselves to run along with them and champion them to win – the pie is big enough for all of us.

Chardia Christophe

Chardia Christophe

Two phenomenal young 20-something women I met several months ago illustrate this point. At the behest of a friend, I attended an evening networking event sponsored by New York Women in Communications, being held at an Upper West Side restaurant in a very fashionable neighborhood in New York City.

Among the young women we observed scooping up guacamole, slurping mixed cocktails, and balancing their tiny frames on vertiginously high heels that evening were Micaela and Chardia Christophe. Two utterly charming twin sisters, both have been working and learning about business since their early teens. Micaela manages showroom merchandising projects at Donghia, a high-end home furnishings company featuring textiles, lighting and accessories. Chardia works for American Express, managing the marketing for a wine club along  with other member affinity clubs under such luxury brands as Food & Wine, Sky Guide, and Departures.  Chardia has a Master’s in Communication Studies; Micaela is pursuing her MBA in Marketing.

micaela christophe

Micaela Christophe

Even a few of those remarkable accomplishments would place them high on my list of “young professionals I would love to mentor/sponsor/adopt.” On top of that, they are extremely endearing, fascinating and fascinated about everything, and hilariously funny because of their complete and utter curiosity and genuine appreciation for every opportunity they have to advance their careers constructively and productively, make their parents proud and have as much fun as possible doing it.

Following is just some of the wise advice Micaela and Chardia offered when they spoke to my Marketing Planning class at NYU. They didn’t merely shoot from the hip; they did a full-blown Power-Point presentation. Their advice is as suitable for 60-somethings as it is for 20-somethings. I’ve paraphrased only slightly for space and context, adding my own two cents- type comments here and there.

1. Get engaged in the industry you wish to be in – especially if you’re job-hunting. The ladies’ specific advice:

  • Follow powerful people you admire or would like to network with on Twitter and LinkedIn. Comment politely on their background or posts.
  • Volunteer at events whenever you can.
  • Go to mixers and network strategically.

2. Professionalize your phone presence and voice messages. The ladies’ advice:

  • Be sure your outgoing message as well as the ones you leave for others are friendly and professional.
  • If you are trying to persuade busy executives, script out what you want to say, because very few executives pick up their own phones, and assistants will happily put you into voice mails.
    My own two cents: Record and listen to your cadence and delivery (this goes for oral presentations in general). Be especially cognizant of what I see in women of all ages, the telltale “uptick” at the end of declarative sentences as if they were questions.

3. Check your email, at least three times a day; being responsive is a highly valued trait.
My two cents: if you truly cannot respond in a day, at least acknowledge the email within 24 hours and/or default to an “out of office” notice so your lack of reply doesn’t seem discourteous. If you’re like me and running through airports mowing down baby strollers and old people, you’re probably not interested in email as much as you are in food and bathroom facilities.

4. Be careful with your wardrobe. Remember to “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.”
My two cents: nothing saddens me more than to see a woman over 40 dressed slovenly or in sweat pants in public unless said woman is: a) escaping from an Outward Bound retreat; b) coming or going to the gym; c) appearing in public that way before dawn, in which case “slovenly” might be most handy caffeine-procurement garb, in which case, perfectly suitable!

5. Utilize your friends and contacts courteously when job hunting. The ladies’ advice: Reach out to all your contacts and let people know you’re looking. People like to help, and they can’t if you haven’t asked them! Looking for a job IS YOUR JOB.
My two cents: regarding your friends and contacts, do ASK, don’t demand; accommodate their schedules, don’t impose; be geo-friendly – don’t specify neighborhoods you’d prefer to meet when time is tight for the people you’re asking!

6. Practice, Practice, Practice. The ladies’ advice:

  • Go through the possible interview questions until you’re blue in the face.
  • Know the company well, so well that you feel confident and comfortable.
  • Remind yourself of the value of direct eye contact with the interviewer. As you practice, look in a mirror to be sure your body language is relaxed and strong, that you are not fidgeting.
  • Try out your wardrobe choice in advance.
    My two cents: when you’ve done so much research on the firm and reviewed your resume to the point where you could recite it from memory, group all of your benefits to the employer into these three “bundles:” strengths, motivation and fit. Trust me, ALL interview questions fall into those areas, and ALL of them must reflect what the employer most wants that you are willing to deliver to get the job.

7. Go to ALL interviews. Consider them networking opportunities, even if you do not get the job. You never know who knows who.
My two cents: AMEN to that, for sure! It also helps to have a strategic job-hunting plan, and identify the kinds of people you most need to cultivate.

8. Use good online Resources: Media Bistro, Indeed, LinkedIn – all are good for a variety of jobs. There are new online career sites emerging every day.
My two cents: Don’t forget that most hiring managers either hire from within or hire someone they know and trust. More than that, you need to research and secure a SPONSOR. (See my previous blogs for more on working with sponsors: http://thedareforce.com/2013/05/20/executives-over-40-a-few-choice-words-from-your-sponsor-part-1/; http://thedareforce.com/2013/05/30/part-2-great-expectations-from-sponsors-from-you/

Micaela and Chardia Christophe are just two of the young professionals currently hoping to run the new world. Here’s hoping that their managers over 40 are not only running along with them, but championing them to win. Leaders over 40 need to embrace every opportunity to mentor, champion and sponsor the next generation. If you doubt the pie is big enough for all of us, then the next generation of digital natives and relentlessly inventive entrepreneurs will be eating your lunch.

 

Try Charm – It’s NEVER out of style!

woman officeHere are some powerful tips from the “Access/Approach” and “Exchange” methods featured in my book, Get DARE From Here, 12 Principles and Practices for Women Over 40 to Take Stock, Take Action and Take Charge of the Rest of Their Lives:

  • Be exceedingly nice to everyone: Some of the people you are able to ACCESS in the short run might not be decision makers or people who can readily help you achieve your Aims, but they can help you navigate ACCESS to & APPROACH the decision makers you really need. Be exceedingly nice to everyone, especially those who might in fact have advice regarding the ACCESS & APPROACH you should take.No crueler body of truth can damn you in a competitive job situation than a former subordinate who asserts you were the absolute most hellish boss or colleague. Mailroom attendants, secretaries, junior account execs, bank tellers, nannies – anyone who’s ever crossed your path as a colleague – could paint you as Cruella Deville or Medea.
  • facebook buttontwitter buttonlinked in buttonTake care what you say online: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Never before in the history of womankind has it been so easy to identify, investigate and reveal your past transgressions. Many women (and men) over 40 find that the habits, roles or personas they took on earlier in their careers can create hidden roadblocks now that they’re in a transitional period in their lives.
  • Consider a new APPROACH from the ones you’ve used to gain ACCESS in the past. In fact, your old APPROACH may not work in new situations, or in crises, or when transitioning from one corporate culture or geographic area to another. You have to consider the needs and culture of the decision makers you’re seeking to APPROACH. For that you need ACCESS to information regarding what it is that s/he wants and expects, what s/he might need from you, and what s/ he is willing to compromise (and not). Better yet, try to ACCESS information about a problem s/he’s Dealing with that’s important to her company, or job or community.Think of ways that you could help.
  • Everyone needs a dependable, trustworthy network, and it takes time and energy to cultivate reciprocal relationships. Be diligent and proactive about staying in touch with people you trust and respect, ask often about their families as well as their careers, and when appropriate, offer your help. Don’t wait until you’re in a dangerous intersection to ACCESS & APPROACH those that could help you the most. To ADVANCE your own PLAN, you have to maintain ACCESS & APPROACH by showing genuine interest on an ongoing basis especially when you’re not in need.
  • People who are genuinely interested in other people for who they are, not what they can do for them, are the ones with the most friends and business contacts to ACCESS & APPROACH. A genuine friendship is usually a mutually beneficial Deal; the individuals consider what the other person in the friendship needs. It should not be a relationship “bank” full of “chits” one redeems like coupons. If you’re the type that keeps score, you’ll find your ability to ACCESS & APPROACH diminishes, especially as the years wear on, friends move on or retire, and your life situation or career changes.
  • Expand your ancillary circle of friends that you can ACCESS & APPROACH. Individuals you’ve met and have something in common with – be it personal, career or community-centric – you can acknowledge via occasional emails, offers of help, short notes to touch base, etc. It’s not about the quantity of APPROACHES you make, but the quality. Remember you have to APPROACH from the point of view that you have something of value to offer. In the same vein, if you haven’t kept in touch with former co-workers for years, especially if they used to report to you or vice versa, then it’s hard to reach out to them if you don’t have a common meaningful bond.
  • ACCESS & APPROACH for advice those friends who are smarter than you, and even different from you. In the same vein, have at least one friend in each decade: teenager, 20s, 30s, and so on. Make friends outside your normal sphere of influence, especially those with jobs and backgrounds very different from yours.
  • ACCESS & APPROACH people who are good at things you’re not good at or don’t like to do. This is especially important if what you’re not good at is diverting you from strengths that could ADVANCE Your PLAN faster. Or, team up with someone where your joint strengths create efficiencies you could never accomplish on your own. You have to reciprocate and offer skills or advice that would be of value to the other person.

Remember: Poets ranging from John Donne [“No man is an island”], to Carole King [“You’ve Got a Friend”], and Barbara Streisand [“People Who Need People”], have emoted over the centuries about our critical need for ACCESS & APPROACH to, and genuine connection with, other people.

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
~ Madeleine Albright

Bully for You? Et tu, Brutus? Don’t Be A Bully, Especially If You’re a Woman Over 40!

 

Glinda the Good Witch

VERSUS

Cruella de Vil

 

 

 

 


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

 

 


Lately I’ve seen articles with the terms “Hollywood A-listers,” “superstar women” and “bullies” in the same sentence,
topped by last month’s Wall Street Journal article by Peggy Drexler, “The Tyranny of the Queen Bee: Women who reached positions of power were supposed to be mentors to those who followed—but something is amiss in the professional sisterhood.”

With all the heightened talk of mentors and sponsors, it’s sad to consider that there are 40-something female bosses out there who are terrible bullies. What’s more, they blame (sometimes rightfully) the generation of women before them – i.e., women like me who are now in their fifties and sixties who were also bullied early in their careers. It gives new meaning to: “We have seen the enemy, and it is us.”

Don’t believe me? Deny the obvious? Come on! How many of us older women can honestly assert we never thought, “Oh, what a wimp!”, as we watched a younger impressionable woman cry in anger and frustration in front of us about a work or personal issue? How many of us can honestly say we have never cried at work?

One such young woman on my team many years ago not only survived some mean moments with me, but thrived, moving on to head up a respected boutique PR firm. Now in her forties, she is a partner at a large prestigious marketing firm – no small achievement. I know that it’s an achievement she earned not by being a bully, not by being a diva, and not by being a screamer. A few years ago I ran into her in a restaurant, where she warmly greeted me and graciously provided a business lead that became of tremendous value to me. I’d like to think that she learned how to be tough, street-smart, strategic and kind by observing those who were not.

According to Drexler’s article, the queen bee sting is still a big thing. She writes, “Having spent decades working in psychology, a field heavily populated by highly competitive women, I had certainly seen the queen bee before: The female boss who not only has zero interest in fostering the careers of women who aim to follow in her footsteps, but who might even actively attempt to cut them off at the pass.”[i]

Women have even more responsibility to stop this behavior. As I speak with many women about bullying (and its evil stepsisters: apathy, neglect and rudeness), the reality emerges that it’s tolerated in men but unforgivable in women.

Case in point: In New York right now, media stories harp on about the bullying tactics of mayoral candidate (current New York City Council Speaker) Christine Quinn. Yet it seems many New Yorkers not only are ready to forgive former testicle-tweeting congressman (and presumed mayoral candidate) Anthony Weiner his pictorial peccadilloes but also the fact that he is a reputed screamer and bully – which was widely reported years before his anti-social exhibitionism.

Bullying isn’t just an older woman/younger subordinate affliction. It can happen whenever someone else controls your paycheck, promotions, raises, contracts, referrals and other career advancement factors (or, similarly, a spouse who controls your financial security).

Although it happened many years ago, it’s still hard for me to forgive, let alone forget, the hulking mass of a former boss, a (female) CEO who one day physically pushed me – someone who is decidedly not demure, not shy, and not petite – up against a wall to chew me out following a client meeting. I did not see her as powerful or strong. I saw her for the weak and frightened vendor she was. The client himself was a tyrant who routinely threw papers and objects at me and my team, and should have been sued and marked for unemployment forever. My boss was desperate to retain his business, so she chose me as her punching bag. I left the firm soon after that.

The lessons I learned from bad bosses and caustic clients didn’t dilute the far more positive lessons I’m able to exchange with others today. They drove me to business school in mid-career, and to start my own company. More than just learning how to master corporate finance, my MBA taught me lot about respect, motivation and true leadership. Ironically, case histories of powerful (and often bullying) men dominate business school curricula, which is what inspired me to write a book about how great women leaders over 40 lead differently.

In fact, many women in their 20s, 30s and 40s today are helping to pull from career abyss unemployed women over 50 who still want to work. These women are battling a barrage of issues: restructurings, rejection letters, ageism, under-employment, and exploitation of their willingness to consult for free in the hopes of winning paying contracts that never fully materialize. Some of these affronts are by female CEOs, including the increasing practice of ignoring emails from seasoned professionals these CEOs have engaged and to whom they promised decisions.

As one article summed it up: “No reply is the ‘new no.’” While such apathy or cowardice is not limited to female CEOs, it’s perceived as nastier. Is this how they would like to see their daughters and sons treated? If not, they have themselves to blame for proliferating rudeness that will surely pass on to the next generation of hiring managers. Is this what feminists envisioned when they talked about sisterhood, and about women having bigger balls than men? Ignoring courteous requests for closure after you’ve engaged these women to your benefit is the loudest promo that you in fact have no balls – doesn’t matter how powerful you think you are.

What’s even more astonishing in this age of uber-connectedness is that anyone thinks they are immune from the reputation-damaging consequences of such rudeness. People talk and they name names – to your potential clients, your prospective employees, your funders and, most especially, to the media and to your competitors.

Because of the 24/7 spotlight on – well, everyone! – in the workshops I do today with women, and with my marketing students at NYU, I try to focus on the positive and to be as responsive as possible. I spend a lot of time mentoring women and men of all ages, some whom I’ve never even met, and some who don’t have the ability to pay. It makes me happy that so many of these young professionals become mentors and sponsors for the next generation. Some may say I do it to “redeem” my own past leadership missteps. Better late than never, at least I’m righting – and writing – my own best “leader-ship”.

My hope is that all the truly powerful, truly DARE-ing women today – mentors and mentees – remember the good lessons of the women leaders in their lives. And I hope they heed Ms. Angelou’s heartfelt pronouncement as profound advice:

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Next up: Tips, principles and practices for a more equitable way to access, approach and engage one another.

 



[i] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323884304578328271526080496.html

Three Daring Women Over 40, Three Different and Inspiring Legacies

Photograph

Margaret Thatcher – 1925-2013

You loved her or hated her. She saved Britain, or changed it irrevocably into a greedy, heartless, vastly divided nation. Either way, she was charismatic, powerful, and single-minded. She was proud of her nickname, “The Iron Lady” and she was definitely DARE-ing before her time.

Whatever the world thinks of Thatcher, the effects of her powerful years at the helm still ripple outward. To say Margaret Thatcher was not warm and fuzzy would be an understatement. She wanted to be seen as the prime minister, not as a female prime minister. At her death, she leaves a powerful legacy. She was quite simply one of the most important and powerful political human beings (male or female) of the last 50 years.

 

Annette Funicello – 1942-2013

To anyone growing up at the advent of TV when the reference to Mickey Mouse’s ears was literal and not a description of an overzealous pigtail hairstyle, Annette (her first name was how most of us referred to her) was the epitome of warm and fuzzy. And, she was apparently as untouchable as our mothers wanted us to believe we all should be, that is, until properly and officially married. Her deterioration after contracting M.S. in her forties showed a different and more DARE-ing side of this onetime childhood sweetheart, and served as a powerful reminder to all of us over 40. Now more than ever, we need to embrace our health, especially the factors we actually can control, like diet, exercise, annual physicals, and the concomitant tests they entail so we’re vigilant and diligent. Her life and death inspired so many, and prompted glowing farewells from more than one of her leading men. Apparently, Annette was just as wholesome and sweet in real life as she was in all those Disney shows and movies.

 

Debbie Reynolds.jpgDebbie Reynolds – 1932-STILL ALIVE AND CLICKING!

When I was invited to hear veteran stage, film and theatre actor-singer-dancer-author-philanthropist Debbie Reynolds speak at a 92nd Street Y event a few weeks ago, my first rather unkind and profoundly incredulous exclamation was, “…She’s still living?!” Yes, she definitely is, and then some! Over the course of a 60-minute talk to promote her new book, Unsinkable, the 81-year-old Reynolds expounded not a little on love, loss and what she wore, but so much more on love, loss and the, um…word that rhymes with “wars” – all the women who stole the various men Reynolds had the distinct misfortune of hooking up with, giving money to and losing more than she ever thought possible in no bargain. No matter – she is defiantly resilient and resolute about all of it, especially in admonishing her interviewer (an NPR interviewer at least 15 years younger than Reynolds and not nearly as sharp) to stop asking questions about how and why Eddie Fisher left her for Elizabeth Taylor.

Throughout the performance, Reynolds was most hilarious (a lot) when she was being sarcastic, sharp-tongued and self-deprecating, especially when she reached into her bra where she (ostensibly) had interview notes stashed away so she wouldn’t forget her lines. However, she was never more touching, more inspiring and more charming than when she spoke without self-reference of the problems and triumphs of her daughter, Carrie Fisher, who has battled numerous demons of her own. Fisher bought a plot of land just down the hill from where her mother has a cottage, so that she could be near her. THAT takes DARE-ing for sure!

I did not expect to be moved by Debbie Reynolds at this late stage in my life (and hers) but I was sorry to see the show come to an end. Here’s hoping someone soon puts the Unsinkable Ms. Reynolds on Saturday Night Live and that both she and Betty White have a duet somewhere before it’s too late.

 

 

Trains = brains, and dresses = stresses? New research doesn’t bode well for next generation either.

Are boys born loving trains and guns while girls reach for dolls and pretty pink dresses? Are boys born with different brains, enabling them in the areas of math and science, while girls naturally excel in literature and the written word?

You may remember, in 2005, when the president of Harvard at the time, Lawrence Summers, created such an uproar with disparaging comments about women’s aptitude for science and math. Well, it may be true there are dramatically more men than women in top levels of the science fields, but are the gender differences hard-wired?

This debate has raged on for years, the age-old nature versus nurture, science-brain versus art/literature-brain. Researchers have produced a wealth of results from various studies, often conflicting, and the matter remains far from resolved.

Studies have shown that American girls around between 9 and 17 consistently had fewer experiences in the science realm than boys, and generally expressed negative perceptions and attitudes toward science and math classes. Lawrence H. Summers, then president of Harvard, made his notorious comments about women’s aptitude — researchers have been searching for ways to explain why there are so many more men than women in the top ranks of science.

Explaining this gender gap away with the cry: “brain differences!” just does not wash, however. Recent research on gender with regard to skills in math was carried out in 86 countries. The results strongly suggest that culture may be the culprit, not brain differences, that this difference is not biological, but sociocultural. Some countries just do not show this gap that is apparent in the USA, and it seems in countries where females are comfortable and successful in the world of math, there is a greater degree of gender equality. For example, in Russia and Asia girls are more apt to pursue scientific careers than in the US, Canada and England.

But here in the States, the gap has been narrowing. Girls who are considered to be “highly gifted mathematicians” now number 3 to 1, a vast improvement over the 13 to 1 ratio that was present in the 1970s. Women obtaining graduate degrees in math are also on the uptick, even though men are still holding 70% of those degrees.

Suggestions for improving this further? The researchers listed:

  • Increase math-certified teachers in schools
  • Work on decreasing the number of children living in poverty
  • Equalize the gender equality gap.

Easier said than done.

lean-in-coverWhen none other than Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says that women “lean away” from challenging jobs in the corporate firmament because they want to off-track sooner than later to have their children, it’s hard to see how society can do even a 180-degree turn toward encouraging girls to pursue studies in science and math.

The really startling insight here is that research over the last half of the twentieth century, especially, has shown that women scientists (if they find the right sponsors and continue their careers while also having children) tend to focus on socially worthy science, such as disease cures, alleviation of poverty, hunger and homelessness, along with other humanitarian concerns. Male scientists have historically focused on research that is more driven toward industrial applications, such as improving military supremacy, space travel optimization and finance.

No wonder that so many female senators, congresswomen, university educators and other like-minded women are advocating the improvement and enhancement of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education for girls. We can only hope that a high percentage of them apply these skills to making real improvements on all of our lives – especially that of the current generation of their aging parents.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

· “Sex on the Brain: Are boys’ brains different from girls’ brains? Scientists debate the question.” http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2011/11/boys_brains_girls_brains_how_to_think_about_sex_differences_in_psychology_.html

· “Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance” :http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103198913737http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/04/science/girls-lead-in-science-exam-but-not-in-the-united-states.html?_r=1&

· “The myth of equality in science classrooms” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tea.3660200205/abstract

· “Do the Math! Sex Divide Is Cultural, Not Biological” http://www.livescience.com/17429-math-gender-differences-myths.html

Does Money Make Us Happy? Somewhat…

 

Does Money Make Us Happy? Somewhat… Time after Time Studies Find Money Actually Isn’t the Most Valuable and Irreplaceable Asset for Happiness

money

What is it to be happy? What are the defining characteristics of happiness? How does our notion of happiness change as time goes by?   Are we happier if we make more money?  Are we less or more happy because we’ve had a lot of experiences over time, or is it about a lot of things?     

There has been a surge of interest and research on happiness over the last 15 years, to the point where there is now a field of study called “Happiness quantification.”  Economists and other business-school dwellers also refer to it as “utility” – usually with the word “optimization” in close proximity.  Some of the findings are that happiness is very time-sensitive: you may be happier on a Sunday than any other week, you may be happier at 8 in the evening than at 2 pm, you are happier if you live in Colorado than in Nevada.  And contrary to what our parents taught us, there is now some evidence that generally speaking, being richer means you are happier.

Now, just to confuse the issue further, although we Americans are nearly three times wealthier as we were in the early 1970s, when surveyed, we do not seem to report any higher levels of happiness than at that time.

money scalesAnd, with regard to income, a study from Princeton University in 2010 that polled 450,000 Americans reported interesting results: a cutoff line of about $75,000 a year. The lower you are on the income scale, the unhappier you are. But no matter how much you make beyond that mark, there is no substantial increase in your level of happiness.[i]  Perhaps this is explained by the theory that there are actually two kinds of happiness: your day to day mood and how you feel when you get up in the morning contrasted with your overall level of satisfaction with your life, or how you feel it is turning out. The study concluded that 85% of us (no matter where we fall on the income scale) feel happy each day, and most also feel life is going well, or well enough.

In addition to economists, there is a cadre of other experts with plenty of advice on what makes us happy.  I don’t purport to be an expert, but here are insights I’ve culled various sources:

  1. Having some control over our time, so that there’s at least an hour that is ours to do with what we want. Per the above referenced studies and contrary to conventional wisdom spouted for centuries, a higher paycheck will not make you happy if you have little or no time left for something that gives you real pleasure.  Whatever we do for a living, whether we work inside the home, parenting, running a business, taking care of family in some way, or work outside the home, one of the foremost ways that men and women alike define happiness is that one hour (or so) a day (for some it’s only an hour a week, and even more precious at that!), has to belong to them and them alone.  Studies over the past decade of our increasingly 24/7 work modes indicate that even executives at the highest echelons of the corporate suite feel that they have as little control over their schedules as some minimum-wage employees do.  That’s astonishing, to say the least.

     

  2. woman treadmillPhysical activity of some kind is a must.  For decades exercise has been hailed as not only a stress-reliever but a happiness boost.  The endorphins created by exercise can be enough to motivate us to better productivity, a more healthy brain, and even joy.   Fit the time into your schedule to enjoy some kind of exercise and make sure that you push away from your desk and walk around instead of working through a high-fat lunch.  Whether it’s music, walking to a colleague’s office instead of sending an email, taking an outdoor break to walk to lunch, or whatever works for you, break up the monotony and circulation-killing habit of sitting at a desk all day long. 

     

  3. woman big laugh laughingStart your day with a comedy fix, or fit time in for one during the day.  Yes, surfing the net for cat videos has given whole new meaning to wasting one’s life away, but most office workers have found a way to manage the comedy break in sophisticated ways, indulge minimally, and then get back to work.   The benefits of fitting in something that genuinely makes you laugh at the beginning or end of the day or whenever you need an energy boost, are so numerous there isn’t enough time or space to list them all.   Not to mention, diverting yourself via a comedy break from hitting “send” on a very angry email could also save you from making a career-decimating mistake.  Just don’t send an embarrassing comedy short to someone whose sense of humor you may not really understand. 

     

  4. Moving away for even 30 minutes’ time from a challenging task – business or otherwise – is actually your fastest route to an optimal solution and, we hope, a happier day.   One of my favorite new discoveries is a consulting firm called The Energy Project, http://www.theenergyproject.com. It is chock-full of ideas for boosting physical, spiritual, mental and emotional energy.  A New York Times article about the firm remained in the #1 spot on the “Most Emailed” List for almost a week!  Not only does it make me happy to try at least one new idea from that site on a daily basis, but I have come to regard it as my personal reminder to take a much-needed break.

     

  5. Productivity experts at Harvard Business School concur that it’s not just about money when it comes to being happy at work.  In the February 2013 issue of Inc. magazine[2]* on what makes employees unhappy, Professor Teresa M. Amabile asserts [see citation below] that “…making progress on real work…” and “…Feeling like you are able to move forward on a daily basis engenders real joy.”   

    There isn’t an office dweller alive who dreads meetings with no agendas, no purpose stated, and no measurable progress at the end of an hour (or more) of meeting where the time seems to drag on.  Purpose + agenda + time limits = progress and, we hope, happiness at work.

     

  6. to do listTo Professor Amabile’s assertion, I would add that having an effective to-do list is essential.  Resist the quantity-heavy to-do list, as plowing through a lot of unrelated tasks is nothing but project dandruff that fritters away time.  Either bundle tasks by energy, purpose, or timeframe, or slam through inessential tasks as fast as possible.  One of my favorite habits is to ask every day:  “Did my work today increase my stock, lower it, or keep it steady?”  Obviously, I try to have few days where I’m lowering my equity!  Having a set of 60-90-120 day timetables – and revising them to accommodate the inevitable delays or deletions – is essential.  Focus on what’s essential and will lead to greater results.  Get those tasks done during the time of day when you have the most energy, whether it involves physical, mental, spiritual or emotional output that will give you the most productive returns. 

     

  7. wine for two crpdHah – there is no “7!”  How about you just set aside at least one day to rest and do absolutely nothing but what makes you happy.  For many multi-tasking careerists, that means running a lot of errands over the course of the day and then relaxing in the evening.  My husband and I do that exactly:  we designate the one night where we’ll splurge on a Manhattan dinner out.  While it’s presumed that most Manhattan dwellers order take-out food most nights, or that we’re always going to the best restaurants, the truth is actually more prosaic.  When I’ve been out every single day and several nights in a row as well, what really makes me happy is to completely withdraw into my couch.  I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. Consider it a gift – no Santa necessary. 

 *Finally, what actually is the most valuable and irreplaceable asset we have?   Consider this: You can’t insure it.  You can’t bottle it or safe-deposit it (not really).  You can’t get it back once you’ve consumed it, without compromising or deftly negotiating other aspects of your life.  When you have more of it than you thought, it can seem like an eternity – a good and bad thing, depending on your timeframe.  The fact is, the most valuable and irreplaceable asset we have is TIME.  Time after time, that’s what we all want more of, and we can’t get enough of it without planning it, managing it, understanding how we’re using it, and making the most of it.  Time is of our essence, now more than ever.   

 ~     ~      ~     ~     ~

Sources and further reading:

1) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/magazine/money-changes-everything.html?_r=0

2) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2019628,00.html

3) What Makes Employees Unhappy | Inc.com
www.inc.com/magazine/201212/…wong-what-makes-employees-unhappy.html

4) The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

 


 

[1] http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2019628,00.html

[2] What Makes Employees Unhappy | Inc.com
www.inc.com/magazine/201212/…wong-what-makes-employees-unhappy.html


 

Hello, your insurance company called. They want your baggy pants back.

Recently, I blogged about the realities of working at home for many women over 40 and offered some initial tips on how to relieve the bleak boredom of it all, not to mention staying alert to the physical challenges of working at home.

Here’s a wake-up call you can’t ignore: Statistics from Aetna, the insurance giant, show people telecommuting for work gain weight faster and have a harder time losing it than those who go to work every day! We tend to underestimate the expenditure of energy it takes to get up, get showered, get ready, get dressed and get out the door – all the mundane tasks we don’t really think of as physical exercise but which burn calories. Hey, just blasting a hair dryer for 14 minutes during weeks when I’m sorely overdue at my hairdresser’s causes me to fume to the point where I just know I’m burning up some extra calories!

File:RIAN archive 555848 Testing on treadmill.jpgEven if you don’t have time for a full-fledged workout, heed the advice of Dr. Mehmet Oz, and other respected physicians, and pursue N.E.A.T. moves. N.E.A.T. is short for “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” – a really heavy-duty (no pun intended) word meaning that small bursts of activity can definitely help you burn more calories (that’s what thermogenesis means) than just sitting with the remote (and in remote) cracking open pistachios.

Slate Online published an article on December 31 of 2012, “Why telecommuting may destroy your work/life balance,” in which it states, “47 % its U.S. employees work from home every day.” Slate, and other research indicates that 24/7 screen time not only takes away from our physical activity, but interferes with sleep, which then negatively impacts our ability to do productive work! Aetna found that its telecommuters tended to be heavier, so the company now provides an online personal trainer to help them stay in shape [i]

Food manufacturers always get blamed for making people fat, but they could be a boon to consumers who want to think inside the box when planning healthful meals. Frozen processed foods, eaten in moderation, are a secret weapon of people who really want to lose weight but hate the whole planning, measuring, chopping, cooking and clean-up work. When I lost 60 pounds several years ago, and managed to keep all but 7 pounds off, I relied a lot on frozen meals. I would much rather spend my creativity on real work rather than cooking and cleaning. Besides, all that prepping tends to make me munch between chopping, since it takes so much time before I actually sit down to eat my meal!

The key benefit of frozen meals is portion control. If Lean Cuisine and similar lines are too “mini-meal” for you, add a big salad, cut your dressing with lemon juice and make sure you have satisfying vegetables with your meal. Bottom-line is that the food industry doesn’t lift that high calorie snack bar or bag of chips to your mouth again and again. And, if you’re not commuting regularly and your office is in or near the kitchen, it’s just too easy to grab the snacks and lose perspective.

Get dressed in clean, pressed clothes every day. Yes, seriously. I know it’s been said before – in some good ways, actually: “Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up” or from Woody Allen, “80% of life is just showing up.” You may be fighting some depression, some rejection, some anxiety, or even winter’s SAD disorder (Seasonal Affective Disorder- try some full spectrum light bulbs for that). But this can help: put on real clothes, it doesn’t have to be a corporate suit or dress, but something that makes you look put together. Do your hair and put on some lipstick. It will change your whole mindset, lift your spirits, make you feel better about yourself, and prepare you for the day in a way that working in your pajamas just can’t.

As a sign that people of all ages and geographies are embracing this as a productivity concept, so-called Formal Fridays are taking off across corporate America! Tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley instigated a backlash idea: wear a suit on Friday. Talk about an about-face.

File:Skinny20080428.jpgHang up your “5-pounds-ago” jeans (or slinky dress, etc.) where you can see them all the time. I don’t mean your skinny-skinny-skinny jeans that would require liposuction for you to get back into, but something attainable that will help keep you out of the refrigerator or the cookie jar. A colleague of mine hung hers OVER the refrigerator, so that she would have to actually move the jeans in order to open the door to the fridge. May be a bit extreme, but she swears it mortified her into shape!

Consider getting a Soda Stream water carbonator. No, I’m not paid by them, nor do I have shares in the company. It’s just a really good idea. Coffee with sugar and cream in it, fruit juice, lattes and sodas, all have calories that we forget to count, and come with other negative health effects. Instead, Soda Stream will help you drink more calorie-less plain seltzer water with ice, or lightly flavored with a touch of lemon, lime, grape juice, etc. without having to lug containers, bottles, or cans back and forth from the store. And you get the beneficial refreshing effects of water.

Set a timer to go off once an hour to take a break. So many of us are as focused as we are sedentary, even eating our lunch at desk or table. The New York Times published an interesting article in the October 17 2012 edition, entitled, “Get up. Get out. Don’t sit.” It presents two recent research studies which prove sitting for hours at the computer is extremely unhealthy for us! [ii] Every hour, when your timer dings, get up, run up and down the stairs, or do a few minutes with the jump-rope. Even do ten pushups and ten sit ups, if this doesn’t leave you in a sweaty heap. It is the movement, the increase to your circulation and metabolism that we are after here. Some blood to the brain. Refresh and recharge and feel better.

These are just a few ways to accentuate the positive, focusing on the things to actually do rather than not do, to charge yourself up and trim yourself down. Whether you’re working from home temporarily, or it’s a more long-term lifestyle choice, make sure you get yourself in a productive work mindset, get dressed, put on some music, keep moving and refresh your brain at least once an hour.

As for those baggy pants, tell your insurance company they’re just for sleeping – which you try to do for at least 7 hours! All the better to preserve and protect your middle-aged mind!

 


[i]http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/12/telecommuting_may_be_terrible_for_your_work_life_balance.html

Working at Home over 40 – Fast Track to Middle-Aged Wasteland?

gray haird woman computerWorking from home, on your home, or partial telecommuting?  With each passing year I meet more and more people who work from home for a variety of reasons, and despite what might seem like oceans of free time or an infinite flexibility in managing one’s own time, the reality is often the exact opposite.  And, what often suffers in all the time constraints is one’s own physical and emotional health.  Even if your home-based reality is for the most part a pleasant one, there are going to be days when all you want to do is pull on the sweatpants, slash open the potato chips, and giggle through a marathon of Modern Family reruns! 

Not only is the middle-aged mind a terrible thing to waste, but your mind is a muscle that needs rebooting all the time! So, let’s accentuate the positive in looking at why women over 40 are working from home and how to make the environment more conducive to physical and psychological health.    There are many productive and positive reasons women over 40 work at home, and many ways to offset the challenges that come with being “marooned” in a home office.  Here are just a few:

Some women are working in their own businesses, or working with employers whose business models enable working from home, whether it’s full-time at home or flex-time.   If you don’t have to report to an office even part of the time, that’s all the more reason to get out to breakfast, lunch or drinks with colleagues or other people in your industry.   

Many women are working on their homes, or inside their homes, in some way while also earning a living.  Working on a home could mean prepping for a sale, or downsizing and the clearing out that comes with both those transitions.  Or, it could involve taking care of children and elderly parents – many boomers are doing both while also working full time.  I had my own share of that all last year when my husband and I were trying to sell the lovely 200-year old Colonial we loved but had outgrown, and I had to commute back and forth from the north Jersey suburbs to our new home in Manhattan, where I also worked.      

During really hectic times in your life, push yourself to carve out time just for you.  I force myself to a gym several mornings a week, setting the alarm for 5AM, or go for a brisk walk while it’s still really early, just so that I don’t spend my entire day doing something for someone else.   

Some women are working at home only until they land a new position in an office, a situation that makes it all the more important to be in “work-style mindset.”   Job-hunters are the women I empathize with the most, because their identities are about work (work clothes, work habits, work skills), and they can’t predict how long the job search might be.  Prepping or waiting for calls or emails about leads, decisions and other search issues often happens at home for some women.    And, those are the days when it takes Herculean effort to bound out of bed, get to the gym, or outdoors.  For sure, those are the days when you have to get out of the sweatpants and plan on healthful foods that will make you actually feel good, and schedule meetings outside your home.  Better than hanging out at home or your local coffee shop consuming high-fat, high-salt or sugary comfort foods.

In the winter months when the weather is bleaker, it’s worse – but you have to get over it and get out!  I get invited to lots of networking events – I could be out every night of the week!  Some are well worth the outing, but others are not as productive.  Regardless, I still push myself to go out on most nights.  It’s just too tempting to hunker down in the biggest baggiest clothes I have and not even consider the thought of washing my hair, let alone putting on makeup!  And those are the days that my time management habits go out the window, because I feel an expansive day ahead where I have all the time in the world to just “wallow.”  Forget about it!  I DARE you to just make yourself go.  Interacting with other people – especially people who are different than you, is the best way to engage your social skills, broaden your horizons and make you more productive in your work at home. 

Don’t let that precious middle-aged mind of yours go to waste! 

PART TWO COMING SOON:  a wake-up call you can’t ignore from top health experts.