Why Bother?

Lately I feel like a real contrarian on this blog. I don’t think anything I have to say will resonate with anyone. Remember when I wrote fashion posts? Me neither. I don’t feel like advising anyone on fashion when I work with millennials who in many cases look and dress better than Gal Meets Glam. I can’t relate much to the constant stream of articles and blog posts about continual self-improvement trends that change every other week.

But here’s something I’ve been thinking, and it is indeed a contrarian position: Most people have within them their own answers on how to improve themselves. These answers are based on an individual calculus of meeting necessary responsibilities, but also enjoying life. And so, I spend my time working on my career, staying on budget, helping my kids do homework, read and learn, entertaining my family (my brother lives here now – woo-hoo!), doing fun stuff occasionally with my husband and participating in sports I actually enjoy. And sleep! I need sleep on the weekend, and I don’t care any more if people make snide comments about it. I need that sleep for optimal performance.

I feel this way because I have embraced the stoics after initially resisting them. The stoics were early to the personal growth canon, but ultimately what they wanted to do was not let life get them down. A lot of exercises they did were to inure themselves to life’s slings and arrows BEFORE they actually happened. Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher, would imagine all the terrible things people would say to him during the course of one day when he first woke up. Then, when people DID say terrible things (I guess Rome was a golden age of insults, and he heard lots of crap in the course of a day like, “Hey Marco, your son is kind of a weasel”), because of the early morning practice, he would be like, “Eh, that wasn’t not so bad.”

That’s one example, but others are quite profound. The stoics would say: counting on the best things happening to you is a recipe for unhappiness. Let go of that. By imagining the worst things happening, you can address how you feel about it, then let go of the panic – then truly appreciate what you have WHILE you have it.

Maggie and Nicole had a really interesting post about complaining. I think complaining is what we do when we think we need – and deserve to have the best things happen to us. We want: partners who are perfect, this house, this body, kids who never give us a moment of trouble. I definitely have my moments of wanting this stuff. But all of these things are NEVER going to happen. So why continually be surprised that they continue to not arrive?

So I no longer complain much. Like Marie Kondo’s method, I think complaining is (mostly) a waste of my time. When I thought more about Maggie and Nicole’s post I realized something interesting. My blog posts with sturm and drang DO get more attention. The highest number of comments I ever got was for some rant about a bad travel day. If I am not going to complain, will anyone care what I have to say? Or comment?

I’m guessing no, so bring on the crickets! But like I told a blogging friend recently, sometimes it’s just nice to know that this platform is here, where we can still write. Even if no one cares – our voices are still here. I might not be talking about what anyone cares about, and so I should expect nothing in return. The stoics would demand no less.

Stoics – yay or nay? Marie Kondo – yay or nay?

 

 

 

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Time Management

I had to make the time (ha!) to write this short post, prompted by my own response to Stirrup Queens.

Randi Zuckerberg’s “Pick 3” tweet from almost 5 years ago is apparently making the rounds. And debate is being stirred.

zuckerberg

Insert “career” for “company,” and I tend to agree.

Why? It’s probably these factors:

  • Where I live
  • My own career
  • People I know

…that makes me more sympathetic to this argument. I don’t want to break my back just to try to maintain “balance” with all these things – and fail. What’s the point?

We all make choices, and my own career is personally satisfying and allows my family a certain level of security and comfort. I love what I do. That said, data shows my profession is one of the 10 most stressful professions and filled with deadlines, which in turn leads to a pretty tight schedule with few breaks and lunch hours. No, it’s not on par with the presidency or being a firefighter, and no, PR execs aren’t saving the world. But empirically speaking, we really don’t have free time during business hours (8 – 6). We just don’t.

Take away my commute, my time with the twins (dinner, homework, bedtime – 2 hours), time with my husband when he gets home and sleep – and that’s pretty much all I’ve got during the week.

Let me make clear – this isn’t unique to my profession / situation. Others who work in tech, Silicon Valley startups, investment banking, corporate law, etc, etc. also are faced with this type of schedule.

So, “Pick Three” appeals to me. My three right now are career, family and sleep. But don’t forget about the weekends. That’s when I try to pursue the other two, too.

Pick Three – or Do Them All? 

 

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Agency

In sociology and philosophy, agency is the capacity of an entity (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or soul-consciousness in religion) to act in any given environment.

– Wikipedia

Sometimes life is not within our control. The proportion of how much control we have varies. I would argue the proportion varies person to person, based on socio-economic background, genetics, and pure dumb luck, among other factors.

For the most part, I prefer to operate under the idea that I have agency in many, but not all matters. I love my job and industry because it allows for a high level of agency. The harder I work, the smarter my strategies, the better I do.

Likewise, budgeting is mostly under my control unless our situation changes. Do I want to be in debt, or do I want to pay off debt? I want to pay off debt, so I make choices to do so. No vacations, few meals out, no shopping = less debt. It’s straightforward and it feels like I am in control, which I love.

Does it mean I am bummed that we’re not going to Disneyland, or Hawaii, or Europe? Sure. But again, my choice. No travel this year means less debt. And less worry. Worry doesn’t have a dollar value, but not worrying is worth something to me. It’s worth a lot, actually.

I was reading Beverly Cleary’s autobiography “Girl From Yamhill” which contains one of the most compelling descriptions of what it was like to live during the Depression.  We aren’t in a Depression (although we recently narrowly avoided one) yet there are lessons to be learned from the book. Build an emergency fund, have the least amount of debt you can – and especially don’t carry high interest level debt.

The past ten years has taught me that you often don’t have control of a situation, but when you have agency, grab it. Use it. Grousing or complaining often about the unfair nature of life is a waste of time. And worse, it wastes other people’s time.

I wish I had learned this much earlier, but now that I have, I hope to never forget it.

How much agency to do you think people have? Do you like to feel in control in most of your life?

 

 

 

 

 

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Budgetpalooza

I never know how or when to talk about money. Does anyone? That being said, money is a major part of everyone’s life, for good or evil (or both).

So, budgeting. I did not know much about personal finance or budgets until I met my husband. At the time, I was paying the minimum balance on both my credit card and student loan. I was living the life I thought I could afford, in an expensive city. I indulged in meals out, travel, clothes and shoes. I didn’t have a very affluent upbringing, so I took pride in my life as a working woman. I liked making my own money and paying my own way. But truthfully, I couldn’t afford my lifestyle. Hubby-to-be pointed out that I should be paying down my debt and building up a cushion of savings, and he was right. I bought a Suze Orman book and took some of her advice. I paid off my student loan and my credit card bill in one year by making smart choices and most importantly, by tracking every cent I spent. I did this on paper, as my expenses were not very complicated. The next year, I built a six month emergency fund. I got a raise, so I transferred that money to the fund, and I also saved, although less.

These experience sort of sucked at the time (shopping was banned, and not a lot of fun meals with friends happened), but it was ultimately liberating and showed me I could manage my money effectively. Since my husband and I have gotten married, we’ve had various joint savings goals at various times, usually to pay down debt or pay for IF. However, we have tracked our expenses carefully, just without a strict budget.

Until 2016. For the next two years, if all goes well, we will be working to build up a cushion that will allow for some financial freedom. It’s not a crazy goal, like apparently some bloggers commit to, but it’s not insignificant either.

(And a note is needed here about how privileged and lucky we are to be in good jobs, and how those jobs enable us to be in a position to save now. Those jobs, plus our education, choices and family backgrounds all allow us to do this. I would never presume to think those who are disadvantaged / living hand-to-mouth can “just” live frugally and budget.)

The Budget: We use Mint to track our expenses. This month we checked in each week (and sometimes even every day) where we were within each category, and adjusted spending accordingly. We had a problem right away – both cars broke down the same day within 20 minutes (REALLY?!) and that hurt. We had to shift money from groceries to miscellaneous, then delay purchases of some useful items until next month. But there was something empowering about doing this – skipping a purchase, changing plans. We renegotiated contracts we had with cable and phone providers to allow for more savings.

There’s a Nora Ephron quote I love. It’s overused, but I strive to live it everyday, whether at work, parenting, with family or friends.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

I love budgeting, because it allows me to enact this in some small way. At the end of this month, even with the car problems, we stayed within budget and we saved the desired monthly amount.

This is where I ask you, readers, to share any budgeting, or even savings tips you have. And, if you are looking for personal finance tips, there’s no better resource I’ve found lately than the very smart women at Grumpy Rumblings.

Do you like budgets? How do you stay within budget, and what kind of tools do you use? Do you budget only when you have a saving goal? 

 

 

 

 

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When to be “Shallow”…and When Not To

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In the last couple of years, I have revitalized my social life. This has mostly been a great thing.

That last miscarriage (in 2010) decimated me, and I spent about three years rebuilding. I just kind of withdrew and recharged, and I don’t regret doing that. But the “seclusion” led to a decline in social skills. I sucked at small talk, and especially finding common ground in conversation. I began to think maybe I just wasn’t cut out for little league, soccer, pre-school circles.

But then I went back to work full-time, and it threw me into a universe where rational thinking, problem solving and social skills are everything. Re-entry was a game changer. Why? Probably because collaboration and teamwork are so important in my field. I remembered that finding common ground, even over something tentative and small, helps to build bonds. So instead of narrowing my net like in 2010 (and clicking only with people who “got” my situation on many levels – which was rare) I widened it, and now I connect with people who have lived in London, love sushi, like shopping at H & M, etc. It feels nice to connect with so many folks, even over “silly” things.

One of my mentors likes to talk about how “affinity” is needed for proper communication. In order to communicate with people, you need to LIKE them, even if just a little bit. You need to feel some sense of affinity with them – whether a sense of commonality or kinship or loose association. Sometimes you need to dig deep to find an affinity, but in almost all cases, it’s there, somewhere. Unless a person is just a total douche, and that’s relatively rare.

I have built several lovely groups of friends recently. I have a weekly tennis clinic with three awesome buddies who don’t hold the fact that I am a terrible player against me. My husband and I have some couple friends – husbands and wives we both like and get along with. I have empathetic blogging friends like Bodega and Mo for heartfelt conversations. And I also have some great work colleagues whom I can laugh and commiserate with. I have neighborhood friends, I have my past college friends, I have FB friends.

All of these people have one thing in common with me – we can meet in the middle and find something to talk about, whether it’s work, parenting or my embarrassing tennis. It’s a collaborative effort, with a balanced result.

But.

I guess that could mean I am a “shallow” person, a term someone used to describe me recently. And I don’t think that description is off the mark. I do have a lot of superficial connections to people now, more than I probably ever have had. I try to bond with many people, but I tend to keep it “light” so I can stay in touch with them indefinitely. I don’t want enemies, or “bad blood,” to paraphrase that poet of our time, Taylor Swift. It’s too exhausting, and I’m too old.

I didn’t love being called shallow. But maybe being shallow is the key to a circle with many resources. I guess it’s OK as long as I always have the good friends too, the ones who will be there for me. And the most important social skill is to be a good friend. I try really hard to do that.

What do you think? Better to be “shallow” and have many connections? Or be deep, and only connect with a few who have many things in common with you? Or is the ideal actually both?

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