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The Slippery Road To Isolation Well Before We Are Old

One of my longtime California friends recently sent me an email commenting on how many long-term friendships are affected by the recent presidential election. His observation is that a significant number of people – from both of the major voting spectrum positions – are unable to comprehend how their friends could possibly have voted the way they did. Even worse, they are currently unable to forgive. On the surface they can still socialize but it’s awkward because conversation topics are now limited and everyone knows things just aren’t the same between them. Trust has been broken and, once broken, repair is not in sight. “How could you?” is the question hanging, unspoken in the air between them.

Provoked by his email, I checked with other friends around the nation. Sure enough, it’s not just a California phenomenon. I had previously thought of divisive as an adjective. Somehow, while I wasn’t looking it turned into a transitive verb with long term friends as the objects. And this is a potential, durable problem for all of us After 50.

In social network theory Strong Relationships/Strong Networks of Relationships is used to describe interpersonal connections characterized by high levels of trust, significant shared history, similarity of values, intentions in common, mutual support, and well established assumptions about one another. How many of these relationships are enough depends upon the individual. Strong Relationships/Networks are very important because they are efficient, reliable, and trustworthy. You don’t have to explain. You can make direct requests without preamble. Working on something at home or on the job can feel choreographed because you know how to move together.    And sometimes you can even finish each other’s sentences. We all need Strong Relationships/Networks.

Again in social network theory Weak Relationships/Weak Networks of Relationships is used to describe interpersonal connections characterized by little knowledge of each other, few if any shared friendships, potentially different background or approaches to life, and values which are not identical to our own. How many of these relationships are enough depends upon the individual. Weak Relationships/Networks are very important because they are the source of new possibilities, contacts, and approaches. They are also the source of a significant number of AHAs! and fresh ideas. If you are looking for an insightful answer or piece of information, weak relationships are more often than not a superior source because the individual is not burdened with assumptions about you and is likely to come from a totally different place than your own. We all need Weak Relationships/Networks.

The severing of a longtime friendship at this time is more than the termination of one strong relationship. It’s also the eradication of a significant number of weak connections your former strong connection could have arranged for you. How many strong relationships do you currently have and how does this total compare to what you really need in your life right now?

How many weak relationships – including connections through your strong relationships – do you currently have and how does this total compare to what you really need in your life right now?

Impoverishment in relationships later in life often comes because:

  1. The individual has not maintained his/her strong relationships AND has failed to replenish the network as people dropped out through moving, illness, no longer working together, or any of a number of other causes.
  2. The individual has failed to maintain and adequate weak network of relationships and, therefore, has few candidates in line to occupy strong connection positions.
  3. 1 and 2 lead directly to isolation.

I am asking you to consider how much energy, time, and effort it takes to build and maintain enough strong relationships. No one knows where our country is really going. It’s like hanging on to a surf board bouncing across the waves at the moment.

Do you have such an excess that you can easily afford to jettison previously important and strong relationships?

How are you resolving the relationship divide and the loss of trust with your strong friends who didn’t vote the way you did?

How strong is your Weak Network?

I propose a checklist of isolatioin conditions:

  • Enemies
  • Impoverishment of Strong Networks
  • Failure to nurture Weak Networks
  • Diminishment of curiosity
  • Failure to remain and interesting person
  • Capitulation and victimization

How many of these conditions exist in your networks?    What can you do about them?

Please let me know.

A Scandalous Request Of The Media And Ourselves

 

 

 

 

 

Take a look at these words. What do they have in common?

  • Scandal
  • Crooked
  • Discredited
  • Narcissism
  • Harassment
  • Weapon
  • Lie
  • Defeat
  • Abuse
  • Hate
  • Witchcraft
  • Steaming Mess
  • Satan
  • Crackdown
  • Helpless
  • Farce
  • Seduce
  • Murder

They are all part of recent media hyped headlines in print, broadcast and all forms of internet/social media. I started counting and keeping track a couple of weeks ago out of desperation.

Of course the media is to blame for showing little restraint in using inflammatory, high load, pedantic language in headlines and articles. Undoubtedly it boosts subscriptions and followers but does it help our nation?

Our elected leaders contribute to this too. Just watch members of Congress grandstanding in public view with their righteous indignation and blame outweighing a search for solutions.

But we consumers are to blame too, aren’t we? Nearly all of us I suspect (including me) fall into the hype trap fairly regularly. We are the ones who are paying good retail money for hyped goods. Whether we’ve A. been conditioned to do so by our highly manipulated environment or B. been too titillated and lazy to redirect our attention or C. think it’s kind of fun as long as it doesn’t directly involve us and we don’t have to actually look at the hidden costs. The fact is that this level of highly hyped sewage doesn’t seem to phase many of us. We may roll our eyes and then move on. The fact is we’re still paying with our wallet share and with our attention. I think that’s regrettable.

I’m not objecting to the use of any of the words above. I am objecting to how they are often used AND how gratuitously these words (and others; this is certainly an incomplete list) are flung at us in inflammatory headlines and text.

As someone After 50 I believe in the power and grace of civility. And in the power of language. I know that I can’t shoulder the blame alone for where we are but I do bear some kind of responsibility for what is presented to all of us, including my grandchildren. If I’m hooked in all of this it’s how appalled I am at where this could lead them, much less us.

Here is my scandalous request of all of us consumers:

  1. Let’s all pick a specific week in which we are paying attention to the gratuitous use of hype from all the governmental and news sources we see. We would announce it in advance as a movement. Will someone please come up with a clever movement name?
  2. During that week whenever we see gratuitous and inflammatory hype we cancel our subscriptions, withhold our purchases and turn off everything from our tablets to our TVs.  Money, ratings, circulation, profit and shareholder returns are powerful tools for change and they are at our disposal if we do this right.
  3. We begin locally as an experiment. If it succeeds we go regional. If that has an impact we go national.

Mr. Trump has won the election.

May we now, all of us, begin to take greater responsibility for the language we employ/consume and the power it has to unify or polarize?   We don’t have anything to lose but the quality of our grandchildren’s futures and the tenuousness of our success at refocusing ourselves together.  Can we become a cohesive nation without the unifying catalyst we have historically relied on: a common enemy within or without, offered up on a bed of flaming hype?

What do you think?

Getting Real About Narcissism

I’m alarmed by the number of times I am hearing or reading the term Narcissism each week. I’m not alarmed by the term itself. I’m alarmed by the use of the term as a putative weapon of war.

Anyone who pays attention can attest that as a nation we often have a strong preference for collective notions/labels that lump ideas or people under a single illusory banner as if it were the solid truth. These lumping labels save us from having to do the more difficult, much more thoughtful work of making important distinctions so that we can see what’s really going on or who we’re really seeing. This, of course, puts us immediately on the slippery slope to inferior conversation and uninformed decisions.   We’re regularly abetted by the Press, Pundits, Educators, and our own sloppy thinking.

Take Liberal and Conservative for instance as labels. On the surface they work well to create the illusion of opposites. In fact, people don’t fit neatly into these boxes. At least 30 people have told me in the last month – usually out of the pain of discussing the national and local elections – that they are fiscally conservative and lean towards socially liberal.  More than that have told me – ditto – that they are abandoning their historic political party for this election.

Take Depression for instance as a label. On the surface it’s a homogenous condition characterized by sadness and loss of interest. In fact, it’s much more complex and nuanced than that, a combination of conditions that can vary from person to person.

Take Baby Boomer for instance as a label. On the surface it’s a homogenous group of people characterized by being born between 1946 and 1964. In fact, the diversity and complexity of the 76.4 million members of the Boomer Generation is staggering.

Which brings me to Narcissism. Like Depression, Narcissism is in many ways a sloppy, generalized label for a much more complex set of underlying conditions that need to be examined to understand what’s really going on. This is especially true if loyalties, decisions, actions and votes are going to be predicated on that label.

Here is a list of conditions to review – conditions that to a greater or lesser degree combine to form what we are calling Narcissism in the popular press and in our own conversations and conclusions:

  • Grandiosity
  • Need for admiration
  • Lack of real empathy
  • Need to be at the center of priorities and actions (think of a hub or a fulcrum)
  • Self-protective Conspiracy Theories
  • Absence of personal responsibility
  • Imperviousness to differing opinions or facts
  • Denigration of anyone who disagrees or holds a contrary position
  • Personal insulation from impact of words and actions

Regardless of who or what you are talking about – individual candidates, national and local political campaigns, elected and appointed officials at all levels, our neighbors, our peer group, our opponents and ourselves – here is a simple technique for examining what’s really going on:

  1. Identify the person or group
  2. Hold him/her/them up against the list of conditions above
  3. Use this scale for absence or presence of each condition:  -3   -2   -1   0   +1   +2   +3, assigning a number score to each condition
  4. Take a look at your scoring to see much more clearly what is really going on
  5. Use this information to inform your conversations, decision making, actions, and votes

This technique can be used in a wide variety of other situations, too.

I’m hoping that in taking a closer look at what’s really going on, the quality of our conversations, decision making, actions, and voting behaviors will improve far beyond the rhetorical, adrenalin-laden reactions and overreactions we’re seeing at the moment.

What are your own techniques for looking more closely at what’s really going on?

The Wisdom of Dan Fogelberg

I never thought I would see the day when I felt compelled to walk by the television news with my hands over my eyes and ears.  My wife, Linda, is a political news aficionado.  She has a large need for me to sit down and watch the media’s version of Secretary Clinton, Mr. Trump, Senator Sanders, and others parading their messages in front of me.  I have an equally large need for me to go to the far end of our house and read a book.  Our respective needs increasingly collide.  Her temporary tolerance for sloppy thinking, misuse of language/image, and for hearing promises that can’t possibly be kept far exceeds my own.

We can’t be the only ones in this situation.

Unwilling to become hopeless, I find I can only maintain a center of positive attitude by NOT immersing myself in the media’s callow pursuit of the most unworthy parts of our attention and the most unsavory aspects of the candidates.  And it’s our own fault that this is happening because we consistently fail to reach for the remote and hit OFF regularly.

Driving along in my car and listening to Pandora recently, the familiar voice of Dan Fogelberg grabbed my attention.

Love when you can
Cry when you have to
Be who you must, that’s a part of the plan
Await your arrival
With simple survival
And one day we’ll all understand
One day we’ll all understand
One day we’ll all understand

Dan Fogelberg – Part Of The Plan Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

There is absolutely NOTHING I can do to influence the current political situation of my country except wait to vote.  And vote wisely when the time comes.  Understanding is probably not possible.  Controlling is several degrees of impossible beyond that.

So I’m going to pin my hopes on Mr. Fogelberg’s lyrics.

There is no question I am surviving, distraught though I may be.

There is also no question that I hope to understand some day.  I want it all to make some sort of sense that only the passage of time can provide.

What are you doing to get through this ugly period of little understanding and even less control?

I really need help here.

The Real Future of Work – Part 2

This post is a follow up to my first blog on The Real Future of Work – Part 1, which you can read HERE if you’re interested.

I was intrigued by management consultant Ron Ashkenas’s article, Navigating The Emotional Side of a Career Transition, in the Harvard Business Review.  Ashkenas had worked for the same firm for 37 years, starting just after graduate school, and decided to try a new path.  He found himself struggling in ways he didn’t predict. He was facing three hurdles:

  • Sense of guilt
  • Adjusting his personal identity and sense of self
  • Letting go of old patterns and habits.

I think Mr. Ashkenas has hit the nail on the head when he talked about obstacles and solutions. I’d like to add the following to the conversation.

We will increasingly need to be the CEOs of our own professional lives. We can’t passively allow our employers to decide our careers; our professional success is not their main interest (our performance is), but it should be ours.

Accustomed as we may be to our one-professional-thing-identities (as in dentist, plumber, mechanic, attorney) we may not be able to make an adequateliving doing only one thing under one label in the future.  And we may not want to.  We still ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, reinforcing that the best answers are one-word answers.  That doesn’t work any morewhen you’re asking a kid. How many 12 or 22 year olds know what single work they will pursue for the rest of their lives?  We need a smarter question to ask ourselves as adults. What choices of work situations will give us the best and most remunerative experience in the next 3-5 years?  Beyond that we probably can’t predict with any accuracy.

Mr. Ashkenas’s experience will not be universally applicable.  Many of us have not had one job/employer/career.  We have had several. For lots of us, this variety can be a source of confidence.  We made major changes before and we can again.  On the other hand for lots of us, multiple job or career changes can make transitions worse because we blame ourselves for failing to find our one true calling to which we could devote our entire work lives.  I believe it’s a trap to believe that each of us had only a single career that should last a lifetime.  Maybe we have several which are concurrent or sequential.

Letting go of old patterns and habits will have to be bigger than shaking off the patterns and habits of a single, long-term profession or job.  The letting go must also include the willingness to NOT pursue a single replacement for what we’re letting go. We already know that many people older than 50 are statistically the last hired AND, given the hollowing out of the middle management tier, they are unlikely to be hired into a job of comparable status, responsibility and compensation than the one they left.  Seeking only a new job to replace the old one cuts them off from a substantial pool of emerging work possibilities.  And this presumes they have kept their skills and expertise not only current but leading edge.   And it presumes little if any age discrimination.

Welcome to the new world of work for pay.

I’m happy that unemployment rates are down and that the economy is doing well.  That said, now is the time to think not only about the next economic downturn but also how you can start now to build sustainable, small income streams so that being unemployed or searching for a scarce or non-existent job aren’t your only two options.

Click HERE to read Ashkenazi’s article.

 

The Real Future of Work – Part 1

I’ve recently returned from Vancouver, where I presented a session at the American Board of Vocational Experts  annual conference.  My session was called THE NEW WORLD OF WORK FOR PAY: IT ISN’T ALL ABOUT JOBS ANYMORE. 

What do I mean, it’s not about jobs?

Work has been with us forever.  Jobs have not.

Jobs as a configuration of work for pay really began with the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century.  Factory jobs (and later, office jobs and service jobs) were the basis of a long-term (potentially lifelong) agreement between an employer and an employee involving tasks to be done, skills required, hours, compensation, benefits, performance expectations and a job title.  With title came status.  Upward mobility became possible for workers for the first time.

But now that model has been disrupted. Jobs are no longer the single gold standard of work for pay.  Employment by a single organization or having the same career over a lifetime is becoming the exception rather than the rule.  A college degree no longer guarantees a good job with a good salary.  At the same time, we’re seeing an explosion of work for pay that doesn’t meet the traditional agreement conditions. You can see this change reflected in language: entrepreneur, freelancer, self-employed, contractor, project-based, part time and casual labor.

Freelancing/contracting is becoming increasingly common in sectors that might surprise you–like health care.  And I don’t just mean the administration part of health care.  I’m talking about physicians and nurses.

Another trend is that few, if any, jobs are going to be very long term, much less career-long, because the work to be done and the need it meets will change.  Telephone operators. Stenographers. Teams of manufacturing welders. The corner mechanic who could fix your car as well as the dealer. Thirty years ago, these kinds of jobs were plentiful.  A generation later, they don’t exist. Brand new technologies took their place, and more are on the way. It’s possible that very soon bank tellers, truck drivers and human resource professionals will be on the list of obsolete professions, too.

What does that mean for you? Life Planning (of which career and retirement are segments) MUST include:

  • The possibility that, given longer life spans, many of us will outlive our money
  • The probability that there won’t be traditional jobs for us, especially much later in our lives
  • The reality that we won’t be able to save our way to safety; we’ll have to find some way(s) of generating ongoing income in addition to savings
  • The likelihood that rapid change will enter our lives without notice, with or without permission
  • The ability to build multiple income streams earlier in our lives which can be sustained later.

The bottom line: We need to be the CEOs of our own professional lives, making and adjusting our life plans as needed.  That means short term planning, acknowledging long-term expectations and intentions, and regular reality checks and course corrections.

Putting our career trajectory wholly in the hands of our employers is simply too risky.  Putting our life planning primarily in the hands of others is not stepping up to responsibility. Professional career advisors are useful, but they can’t ultimately tell us what to do.  Don’t get me wrong: I believe in loyalty to our employers and professional advisors.  I just don’t believe in loyalty at any cost.

Your thoughts?

 

THE MIDLIFE NON-CRISIS

My friend Peter emailed me after reading a recent opinion piece by David Brooks about the so-called midlife crisis.  “The image of midlife as a time of crisis is almost the opposite of what this period of life is really about,” Peter wrote.

I can’t agree enough.

Midlife can be a bit disorienting and scary from time to time, but it is actually a right-on-schedule period of reckoning.  It’s the right time to pursue a set of evaluations and decisions that can lead to new opportunities and new vitality without trashing everything that has gone before.

Asking “Who am I?” is an essential question, no matter what your age.  When you’re young, seeking that answer drives the process of growing up.  That striving will include successful choices and failed ones from which we learn – provided we are paying attention.

As we mature, the question “Who am I?” migrates to the more complex, nuanced “Who have I become?” and “Who would I like (and need) to be in the future?”  Seeking those answers, and acting on them, is also part of maturing.

But why do people think that maturing has a end-date? We should be evolving all the time.

I think so many people dread aging because they see it as a losing battle of hanging onto their youthfulness.  For them, even in their 40s and 50s, their self-image is built on their much younger identities.  At midlife they hang on in preparation for additional hanging on even more grimly later in life.  They feel trapped, or stuck, unwilling to redefine themselves as anything other than their default identity, which is probably decades old and outworn.

In fairness to them, our society primarily works on a success/failure model, and who wants, at midlife, to still be failing sometimes?   Especially since our society gives kids permission to make mistakes and learn from them but withdraws that permission, at home and at work, somewhere around age 40.  We’ve internalized the idea that  we should already have it all together by 45, and believe we should already know the answers.  But why are we abiding by such inflexible rules for ourselves and others?  What’s wrong with continually assessing and adjusting our lives as we gain experience and, presumably, wisdom?

There are various times in our lives when we tend to act out and test the rules with bad behavior. One is the “terrible twos” when NO! is the pivotal word.  Another is the teenage years, complete with raging hormones and rebellion.  A third is the early part of midlife when we’re often compelled to rock the boat again.  As wise parents we set limits on our children’s acting out, understanding that  it’s a normal phase that needs be done safely.  How is it, then, that we arrive at midlife and all kinds of bad behavior are somehow excused, or justified, by claiming a crisis?

Call it what it is: adult acting out.  “Midlife crisis” is an umbrella excuse for all kinds of trouble, as in, “It wasn’t my fault. I was having a crisis!”

I say baloney. We’d be much better off if we gave ourselves permission to be at an uncomfortable midlife crossroads rather than distracting ourselves, and avoiding, by behaving badly.  Expecially if it’s an unhealthy combination of short-term pleasure and behaving badly.

Doing the identity work at this point in our lives, re-evaluating our marriages, careers, friends, interests and goals, is hard.  Wrestling with “Who have I become?” and  “Who would I like and need to be in the future?” can be uncomfortable.  It can be challenging. It can be rewarding, too.  And it’s as essential as breathing.

Read the full Brooks post here: www.nytimes.com/2016/03/22/opinion/the-middle-age-surge.html

Punish The Men, Too

I usually stay away from politics in my blog, but Mr. Trump’s recent comments on abortion have single-handedly pushed me over the edge.   “Punish the women,” indeed.

To the best of my knowledge, there is only one case of immaculate conception on record. All of the other pregnant women in the history of the world have had a partner in conception. A man.

Why am I writing about this in a space usually reserved for After 50 issues?  I’m not having any more children, but my granddaughters are approaching the age of reproduction AND it’s my issue because I vote and have at least some responsibility for creating their futures and the future of the society they will inhabit.

This isn’t a pro- or anti-abortion column.  It’s a column about responsibility.

Take a look at photos of protesters in front of Planned Parenthood clinics.  How many of them are men?  How many are holding signs that say, “We are equally responsible for unwanted pregnancies” or “Women don’t get pregnant by themselves, you know” or “Men For sane, safe sex”?

I know we get caught up in the pro-life/pro-choice rhetoric–and the delicious, powerful current of righteous indignation on both sides.  Even so, this wouldn’t bother me so much if the people posturing in this debate weren’t mostly men.

What would happen if we passed a law that said every man who participated in creating an unwanted pregnancy had the choice of either a public flogging or castration?

That’s an interesting way to frame the punishment conversation.

Mr. Trump, thank you for making the issue so very clear.

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