What Your Mother Should've Told You and Nobody Else Will

What Your Mother Should've Told You and Nobody Else Will

by Natalie Reilly

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A collection of answers for 21st-century dilemmas, from the seemingly minor—like in-flight etiquette, to the top 10 lessons of life—including how to survive a set-back
 For anyone who has ever lost sleep over how to properly end a friendship, wondered how to recover from an e-mail faux pas at work, or longed to appear smarter at

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A collection of answers for 21st-century dilemmas, from the seemingly minor—like in-flight etiquette, to the top 10 lessons of life—including how to survive a set-back
 For anyone who has ever lost sleep over how to properly end a friendship, wondered how to recover from an e-mail faux pas at work, or longed to appear smarter at a dinner party, here is the book with the answers. It is an ironic fact that in this time of nonstop communication, the potential for social blunders has never been quite so ripe. Here at last is a collection of advice on modern manners, solutions for old-fashioned conundrums, and everything in between. These are all the things your mother should have taught you, but if she didn't (or you didn't listen), this book will.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Knowing how to behave in a variety of situations and handle difficult ones with aplomb improves confidence and self-esteem, but it's not always easy to find good advice on modern life. Reilly (deputy editor, Sunday Life) has put together a compact etiquette guide to handle what she sees as gaps in common knowledge in the areas of travel, social media, family, tricky situations, and much more. The situations she addresses include politely refusing advice, relating to your ex's friends, and appearing smarter. Reilly even gives instructions for untagging Facebook photos. It's a fun, chatty book, perfect for browsing or keeping on hand to peruse during a traffic jam. Librarians and readers can't miss with this one.

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Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited
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What your Mother should've told you and Nobody Else Will

By Natalie Reilly

Allen & Unwin

Copyright © 2012 Natalie Reilly
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-74269-644-7


How to be happy

We're always encouraged to do what makes us happy, but the catch is that what we think will make us happy and what actually makes us happy are often wildly contradictory. Besides which, a little bit of pessimism is actually good for you – it's unrealistic to expect to be happy all the time.

If you've been down in the dumps for months now, or you've lost a loved one or your job, or you've broken up with someone, then I'm happy to admit that these meagre 400-or-so words are not about to turn you around – you've been through the ringer so be kind to yourself and don't hesitate to see a professional.

But, if your moods generally err on the side of blue it's time to buck up! Because you can change – if you want to.

Rule number one: you may feel like isolating but it's not the answer. You can enjoy socialising, just pick people you can be your curmudgeonly self around. The more you talk through what's bothering you, the quicker you'll recover. As Elton sang, that's what friends are for.

Speaking of: listen to music. And while you're listening to it, walk. You don't have to download 'Walking on Sunshine' but you don't have to indulge in Leonard Cohen either. Pick a few songs that are uplifting and walk it out. Research shows that exercise lifts your mood. And listening to music you love does too, so imagine what combining them will do for you!

Marty Seligman, the godfather of positive psychology, recommends this and so do I: a 'grateful journal'. At the moment, you're probably thinking 'What do I have to be grateful for?' Well, this is about realigning your brain to focus on the positive. Once you get used to recording five good things that happened to you at the end of every day (no matter how small), your brain will slowly gravitate towards the positive rather than the negative.

Finally, get your mind off yourself. This is not just tough love; research proves this is the key to happiness. Go be of service to friends and family. If you don't have either, then help an old person cross the road. Stand up for someone on the bus. Give change to the Salvation Army. Smile.

The pleasant by-product of this method is a rise in self-esteem. And once you start to feel like you're worth something you'll find happiness – because it's in you, I promise, and it's busting to come out.


How to make friends

Making friends as a grown-up can be challenging – especially if you're a little on the introverted side. But it's not impossible.

I know social-networking sites are the scourge of existence for some, but they also happen to be the easiest way to set up a friendship without appearing as if you, you know, desire a romantic interlude.

So, if you're out and you're introduced to someone you want to be friends with, hop on Facebook or Twitter. And do it straight away – the games that apply in romance do not work in friendship, where the majority of people are already a little on the shy side.

If you don't get out much, Facebook is still a useful tool. If you like what someone has said on your friend's wall, there is no reason why you can't cross-pollinate. There are also hundreds of home-made blogs literally begging to be commented on. And it's surprisingly easy to develop a friendship from one kind remark.

Of course, you can join clubs, groups and sports teams and initiate the after-work drinks with potential office buddies.

But with any of these methods, it's hard to make friends if you don't first have your attitude aligned to friend-making. Look, I know how that sounds, so let's just say that the advice your mother gave you still stands: smile, ask questions, don't fold your arms.

If you're still feeling reticent, remember it's not what you say that matters but the fact that you started a conversation in the first place – because, as the all-powerful Oprah says: in the end, everyone just wants to be heard.


How to survive a setback

Maybe you missed out on that job you were going for; maybe you didn't get the house – or the loan for the house. Or, maybe it's personal – maybe something you wanted to go in a certain way turned out a mess.

Maybe someone close to you let you down.

No matter the origin, it's difficult to dust yourself off and try, try, try again when you feel like you've been, well, punched in the guts.

So, don't. It's fine to take some time and grieve over the lost position, the failed pitch, the one that got away. You can be sad because it is sad, but you don't have to sink into self-pity. And, yes, there is a difference. Sad says, 'Oh well.' Self-pity says, 'Nothing good ever happens to me,' and it works like quicksand: you sink in a flash and it's very hard to climb out again.

This is where friends can come in, to sit with you and to gently steer you back to reality when those statements crop up in your head. So, make sure you surround yourself with friends. And the right friends, too – nobody needs hollow platitudes about doors closing and windows opening.

The next thing you can do is indulge yourself. Go out for a nice meal, go get that massage, go buy those shoes. Maybe someone wasn't respectful of your feelings, but that doesn't mean you're undeserving of respect. You can indulge yourself in small ways, too. Take time out if you can, just to relax.

Remind yourself of your own strengths. The easiest way to do this is ... to use them. If you're a good cook, then start cooking. If you're good at tennis, go hire out a court.

Then, when you're feeling strong enough, make a frank assessment of the situation. This only comes with hindsight, when you no longer feel so fragile you need to hide your mistakes from yourself, so there's no point rushing it. But when you're up to it, ask yourself: What was my part in this? Is there anything I could have done differently? That way, if it ever happens again, you'll know what to avoid. Alternatively, you will accept that this sort of thing can happen to anyone.

And while I'm not about to give you the 'door closing/ window opening' speech I can say that as you're still alive (and reading this) you're already on your way out – slowly, yes, but surely.


How to appear smarter

In this age of sound bites and celebrities, it is comforting to know that intelligence is still considered something of a status symbol.

But knowledge alone will not produce mass approval, so avoid shouting out non sequiturs about WikiLeaks or the history of the railroad at your next dinner party.

Knowledge is like pasta: on its own it can be terribly bland but mix it up with a bit of sauce and it gains instant appeal. Look at that Stephen Fry show QI – those comedians rarely sound like Einstein but because they couch their comments in humour, it flies.

So, even if you only know a modicum of detail about Julian Assange's methodology, add a dollop of wit and you'll be fine. If you have no idea about a topic, listen to those who do. This is half of appearing intelligent – paying attention to what people say.

The saying 'Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt' is a useful one in an emergency. But ideally you should hover somewhere in between.

This means asking questions – the Socratic method, which roughly translates as 'And then what happened?' If you're asking questions it means you're interested, and if you're interested in this intelligent subject, then you must understand it on some level.

Even if you don't, asking questions means you'll be thought of as charming, which is certainly equal to if not more highly valued than smarts.

Carpe diem, my friends.


How to say no

We all have to do things we don't want to, but if you routinely end up in situations that you'd rather avoid, or in which you feel uncomfortable or taken for granted, it's time to start using the N word.

Doing things that only satisfy the needs of others damages your self-esteem, and being self-sacrificial, while it can feel rewarding in the short term, has the potential to turn into seething resentment. And then all those demanding friends, colleagues, lovers and relatives end up asking, 'What happened? You used to be nice!'

The thing is, you are nice. Nice people can set boundaries too. If you have to, tell yourself out loud: 'It's okay to say no to a road trip with the in-laws/ lending money to the boss/letting my friend camp on my floor for two weeks.'

This might sound strange if you've never done it before but your needs and wants are just as important as other people's. It takes practice. So, start small. Say no to the windscreen washer or telemarketer. Then say no to an acquaintance. Then a co-worker.

Focus on your needs when you say no. For instance, if that co-worker asks you to help her out with her work, think about the report you're supposed to finish today – and how you'll feel if you don't do it. Focus on how you'll feel when you have that friend asleep on your couch while you tiptoe around them, trying not to wake them while you get ready for work. It's not great, is it? Explain your reasons for not helping the person in a calm, empathetic way and stand your ground.

Now, work your way up to the person who scares you the most. It might be the boss. It could be your mum. But remember that saying no is a lot like quitting smoking: it's hard now, but not quitting is harder. The sooner you start saying no, the easier it will be – for everyone.


How to handle yourself in an argument

It might be that someone has baited you. It might be that a dispassionate debate has turned a corner and lunged into personal territory. It might simply be a difference of opinion. But if someone is forcefully disagreeing with you, it can be hard in the heat of the moment to utter 'Agree to disagree!'

First, breathe. How important is this argument to you? Next, how important is it that this person sees your point of view? Now, the toughie: is this really about the subject? Or is there a possibility that the subject represents something deeper? For instance, does the fact that someone enjoys reading celebrity gossip mean, in your eyes, that they're shallow? And have you always wanted to call them shallow? It's all about motivations. And questions, lots of questions, wouldn't you agree?

So, after you've asked yourself these questions, calmly concede as many points of the other person's as you can manage. This has the effect of softening the force of their fury and will probably mean that they'll concede some of your points too. Letting someone know they have 'a point' on a small issue displays reason, thereby lending your own argument greater credibility.

It's usually after these two things have played out that the argument deflates and can be put away. At least until you see them again. And then you might have to ask yourself yet another couple of questions: Has arguing become a form of bonding? And if it has, is the feeling of winning worth the conflict? Do you really think you can change their beliefs by arguing?

I don't want to get into a scrape over this but it might be worth thinking about next time you want to go head to head.


How to speak in public

So, it's a wedding speech, or it's a work presentation or you've been called upon to 'say a few words' at a party. Perhaps you've noticed your stomach is now filled with a dozen butterflies.

Whatever it is, you don't need to picture the audience in their underwear to get through it. This is because the audience wants you to succeed. They want to be entertained or informed or moved and to this end they'll move with you, not because you're perfect but because – are you ready for this? – they're only human themselves.

In fact, as long as you have three main points, you'll be fine. Any more than this and people may tune out, any less, and it's not a speech, it's an outburst.

Some believe that speaking off the cuff makes for a more authentic, spontaneous delivery, but unless you're Barack Obama this is not recommended. So, rehearse those three main points because the more prepared you are, the less chance you have of being rattled.

And if you're speaking in front of a serious crowd then by all means, bring your notes. There is nothing wrong with bringing small cue cards to speeches, but make sure the occasion is grand enough to warrant it, i.e. not your kitchen.

But what if you stammer? What if you shake? What if you blush? What if you do all three? I'm telling you, from the top of this lectern, that none of these will matter. They can even be endearing – just be sure to own them. Saying 'Wow, I'm a bit nervous!' will actually make for a more relaxed atmosphere.

Anyway, if all else fails, remember that people only ever retain 20 per cent of what you tell them. If people are drinking, you can lower that number to 10 per cent. And if you've been drinking? Then mazel tov! You probably won't remember a thing.


How to budget like you mean it

If you're after a new bathroom or a new car or a quick jaunt to Barbados, then drawing up a budget is a straightforward and handy way to keep track of where all your money goes so you can save effectively.

Experts recommend doing a monthly budget but it's probably best to have your budget reflect your pay cycle, which might be fortnightly or weekly.

First, gather all your receipts and financial statements together. This will give you an idea of how much you're spending in any given month, fortnight, etc. Then, record your total income. It is at this point that you might want to break out the old Excel spreadsheet on your computer – it's great at minimising confusion (especially if maths isn't your strong suit).

Work out which expenses you absolutely have to pay, like mortgage, electricity, phone, credit card – these are your fixed expenses. Then, work out your variable expenses, also known as your 'fun money'. Groceries may or may not come under this umbrella so you might want to have a separate budget for food.

There are some financial experts who recommend withdrawing all your 'fun money' in one go and dealing in cash for everything until the next pay cycle. The advantage of this is you'll always know how much money you have left and you'll probably save a bundle on bank and EFTPOS fees.

The disadvantage is that if you're like me, if you see lots of money you think you're richer than you are and you might be tempted to spend more. Also, if somebody steals your wallet you're stuffed. It's a personal choice.


Excerpted from What your Mother should've told you and Nobody Else Will by Natalie Reilly. Copyright © 2012 Natalie Reilly. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Natalie Reilly has been a journalist for more than 10 years, writing for such publications as Marie Claire and Sunday Life, where she is also deputy editor, and writes a weekly column called Things You Should Know by Now.

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