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A less-masked future is near, and our facial expressions will matter more than ever

Illustration by the author

As vaccination rates increase, we’re getting closer to a future where masks are less of a presence in our lives, and our smiles (and non-smiles) will once again be visible to friends, co-workers, and the strangers we pass on the sidewalk and in the grocery store.

If that sentence didn’t make you smile, please keep reading.

Until I looked into smiling while researching my book Works Well With Others, I didn’t realize how powerful a force it is. The simple act of smiling can change you and everyone around you, and that’s true now more than ever. A smile —…


Instead of waiting impatiently for the future to arrive, use the concept of ‘dual reality’ to find peace in this weird pandemic moment

Photo: dowell/Getty Images

If 2020 was the worst year ever, 2021 is on track to be the weirdest. Not bad, per se — or at least, not as bad as what we’ve all survived to date. More like, a year that’s shaping up to be more than a little bit… off.

As I write this, most U.S. states have freshly expanded Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults over the age of 18. Yet, at the very same time, states across the country are seeing an alarming surge in cases. The same is happening across Europe and in Canada. In Brazil, the pandemic is…


A mental framework for making it through a difficult time

Photo: Seven Shooter via Unsplash

I like “shopping” for books in my own home by walking over to my bookshelf and pretending I’m in a used bookstore where every book costs zero dollars. It helps that I have terrible book memory, which means that every book feels new to me. (“Which one was Moby Dick again? The whale or the guy?”)

The other night, I went shopping with a purpose: I was looking specifically for books about writing. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of “writing through” the time we’re in, and I’ve been writing a lot more. I grabbed Bird by…


A therapist explains why it’s not just about finding confidence

Photo: chee gin tan/Getty Images

One thing I can say with confidence about remote work: It does absolutely nothing to ease impostor syndrome. Over the past year, even as the world turned upside down, many of my therapy clients have continued to battle work-related worries: They don’t deserve a recent promotion; they aren’t qualified to give that upcoming Zoom presentation; they find it hard to feel professional and accomplished when the sink is full of dishes and they haven’t worn real pants in weeks.

People who struggle with imposter syndrome often think the solution is to build up more confidence — psyching themselves up in…


A fashion maxim that works for the rest of life, too

Image: Kurt Brodbeck/EyeEm/Getty

It would probably surprise a lot of my current colleagues to learn, but I once worked “in fashion.”

I loved this part of my magazine job precisely because I’ve never been all that interested in how to dress. As a story editor, I could look at the subject unburdened by, well, a refined sense of style — a beneficial quality because my job was to take the fashion department’s ideas and present them in a way that made sense to any reader, regardless of their sartorial predilections.

When you come at fashion that way, you’re able to see it for…


Cal Newport’s advice for automating your workflow

Photo: 10,000 Hours/Getty Images

Email is a thief disguised as convenience — and its sneaky energy-sucking threatens to ruin our work lives.

Replying to emails and company message threads never feels like it should count as “real” work. After all, have you ever seen a job posting that lists “quick with tonally appropriate Slack emojis” or “a whiz at inbox zero” among a candidate’s ideal skills? Yet, most of us spend upward of a third of our workdays feeding what the author and Georgetown professor Cal Newport calls “the hyperactive hive mind workflow.” …


It helps to understand the science of success

Photo: Tempura/Getty Images

I never thought I’d say this, but the impending return to “normal” life is stressing me out.

For some people, the pandemic has freed up time to learn new skills and invest in hobbies. For me, it’s been a year of feeling thwarted: The sense of taking two steps forward and one step back, over and over again. The book proposal I’ve been working on for longer than I care to admit has been “almost done” for months. …


A pocket knife is an act of kindness. Really.

Person using pocket knife to peel apple skin.
Person using pocket knife to peel apple skin.
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

I am a firm believer in the altruistic tool — the object you always have handy for other people as much as for you. I once wrote about the impeccably clean hanky. This time, it’s the folding pocket knife. Next time, I’m thinking it will be the wallet Band-Aid.

Whenever I pull my Benchmade 940 pocket knife from my right front pocket, my kids roll their eyes and say, “We know, we know: Always carry a knife.” …


How to turn short-term compassion into long-term empathy

Woman riding train while wearing a face mask.
Woman riding train while wearing a face mask.
Photo: Brasil2/Getty Images

These days, I don’t have to scroll very long before coming across a long-winded rant about pandemic restrictions or a sunny vacation photo with nary a mask in sight. These are people I know, people who have shown me kindness and care through low times in my own life. Each time, the cognitive dissonance makes my head spin.

I recently came across a Twitter thread from the editor Sigrid Ellis that put words to what I’d been feeling: “Americans are really good at acute compassion, but pretty bad at chronic empathy,” the thread begins. “We, without question, haul strangers out…


How to get things done when it feels like the zombies are always encroaching

A person playing Minecraft on an XBOX connected to a monitor.
A person playing Minecraft on an XBOX connected to a monitor.
Photo: Chesnot/Contributor/Getty Images

Even though I’m not really one for video games, I can talk about Minecraft with the confidence of a much more seasoned gamer. I know, for example, that you can play in creative mode, which is all about world-building, or in survival mode, where your main goal is to dodge the monsters and, well, survive.

How do I know this? Because every day my seven-year-old turns on Minecraft in survival mode, my younger son joins in, and then the zombies come. “I want to play in CREATIVE mode,” he yells to his older brother, frantically defending himself against the enemy.

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