Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Maxim #6

Maxim #6: If You Can Forward Your Phone and Work From ANYWHERE  Besides Your Office, DO THAT.

I've become a master on the phone. That noise in the background? Someone's moving in upstairs/I'm at the mailbox on the corner/It's an online seminar/The phone company is messing with the lines/I don't know what you're talking about... These are all reasonable to people who assume you're sitting in your office, doing nothing but waiting for their call and anticipating their needs. But, when it occurred to me that my actual, in-person interactions number in the one's (one, to be exact, some days), in a day, I decided to start taking advantage of technology and I frequently forward my phones and take calls from home, a coffee shop, or a nice beach somewhere, all while maintaining the illusion that I'm stuck under florescent lights, festering away with everyone else.

I know this isn't possible for everyone. I was once a cube dweller--chained to my desk so devotedly that I actually left a Post-it on my chair if I went to the bathroom. THE BATHROOM! I felt I needed not only to excuse my normal bodily functions but also SHARE their occurrences with others. This is a sickness and it was ultimately what made me run headlong back into the unreliable and insane world of politics and entrepreneurialism. I've never felt so sane.

Maxim #5

Maxim #5: A Lady of Leisure Must Be Prepared to Recreate at a Moment's Notice

About a year ago, I realized that my sedan wasn't going to cut it. I could't fit much into it, the seats didn't fold down to my liking, and no matter how much stuff I tried to strap to it and cram into the trunk, it was never going to be a truck. So, I upgraded to a vehicle that suits me: an SUVlette.

In it, at most times, are the following things (summer season):
My bike, tent, golf clubs, yoga mat, swimsuit, clean workout wear, hiking shoes, a dress, high heels, a BB gun, and my fishing gear. This way, if I find a spare hour, I have a plethora of ways to take advantage of it. And, if someone issues an invitation at the last minute, I am prepared to do everything from the theater to a monster truck rally.

The worst thing is thinking, "Oh, that would be great but I'm not dressed/prepared for that." Your kit might be different, granted--Not everyone likes shooting at stuff. I don't know who those people are, but I'm sure they exist and I won't cast judgments on them in this blog.

Maxim #4

Maxim #4: Dishes and Laundry are NOT Reasons to Refuse a Good Invitation

Sure, there comes a point when you look around your home/apartment/parents' basement and think, "I really need to do something about these clothes/dishes/dust-bunnies." But, there's a difference between being a filthy person and having a normal-ish degree of messiness in your environment. So, while I don't advocate for letting your laundry go so long that it's talking to you or you're wearing swimsuit bottoms for underwear, or letting the Jenga-like pile of dishes cause you to resort to eating out of coffee filters, never let mundane chores keep you from a fun evening or weekend. Life's short, carry-out is cheap and maxi-dresses are a commando-gal's best fashion friend.

Note: Maxim #4.5 is always say "yes" to a good invitation. If you think too long, you'll say "no" and that's lame.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

By Percentage, I'm a Philanthropist!

A good friend of mine recently posted on her FB status that she filed her taxes and got hit hard in her first year as a Lady of Leisure. I could relate because last year I made half of what I'd made in previous years, but, for the first time ever, I paid in. In fact, I paid in as much as my man-friend who owns two houses, works two lucrative jobs, owns a boat, and has a retirement fund. (The irony here is that he is a Conservative who complains endlessly about his tax bracket.)

But, like her, I found myself not minding so much. Why? Because I felt like I owed something for the best year of my life. Honestly. 2009 was the most awfulsom year of my life. I worked on my own terms, learned a new skill, traveled and recreated, met my man-friend, made a new best friend and enjoyed the shit out of myself. So, the way I see it, Uncle Sam was just charging me for my non-conformity. I'm okay with that. I was proud that despite my somewhat reduced circumstances, I managed to donate 6% of my income to charities. That's nearly the percentage recommended for people who make MILLIONS and need to reduce their liabilities! I essentially donated back exactly what I'd collected for the 5 weeks of Unemployment I took. The way I see it, I made my "Government Hand-out" revenue neutral by donating to organizations that normally receive government funding and have had their allowances cut.

Last night, I started in on my 2010 taxes. It was an up-and-down year. I found myself working a variety of jobs and peicemealing my income. I started down a couple of possible career paths, only to find myself unhappy and angsty. I took on a part-time job for the first time since college and found that I loved it. I biked 150 miles for breast cancer, for the second time. I moved in with my man-friend and paid off my car (finally!), only to wreck it in September and saddle myself with an enormous financial burden, a new car payment and hiked insurance rate. I got a little depressed. I paid off my credit card. I went an entire year without healthcare. I lost my grandmother--one of my favorite people. I got offered an opportunity to take over a business and work for myself. It was a huge year.

What struck me, though, as I was going through my TurboTax itemizations, is how much financial burden I had in terms of out-of-pocket expenses and independent contractor income, but yet, again, how much I'd given in charitable donations. I gave nearly $1,000 over the course of the year (not counting political contributions), and I made the least amount of money I've made since graduating from college. I gave away 8% of my income this year to charities and foundations. I don't know that I've ever been more proud of anything I've done. I'm not finished yet with all of the add-ins and deductions and whatnot--TurboTax says I've completed 8/10 necessary sections. But, regardless of whether the "Refund" numbers at the top are in the green or the red at the end, I'll be happy for another amazing year of living life on my own terms, out of florescent light and away from a timeclock.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Better to Screw Up Now

I had an interesting conversation with my friend Timmy recently. Actually, all of my conversations with Timmy are interesting if for no other reason than that he's in the foreign service and even though technology has existed for some time to make this possible, I still get a kick out of the fact that I can have a real-time conversation with someone in Africa from my living room. Nothing short of amazing. But I digress...

This particular conversation was interesting because we were discussing our mutually less-than-exemplary relationship histories. Timmy has also been divorced and we often discuss how hard it can be to move forward with new relationships as divorcees in our 20s. Sure, divorce is common--60% of marriages end in divorce now and the success rate of committed relationships in general, doesn't seem to inspire much confidence. But, ours were both short, whirlwind, reluctant marriages and now we're on the other side of them and still dealing with a sense we have that others see us as flighty, and a lack of confidence in our own abilities to determine when we've found the "real thing".

Somehow we got to talking about our friends who dated in high school, stayed together through college, got married and bought houses, and are now onto having kids and wondering how they do it. How did they know back before we could vote or drink or stay out past curfew that they'd found the one? Who you attend public high school with is a matter of geography--how is it possible that they found their LIFE mate within a five-mile radius when I have lived around the world and have only just recently located mine? Let's be clear, I don't believe there is just one person for everyone. But even though I've tried on my share, I haven't really found a good fit until now. I'm willing to accept that I'm probably the Marshall's "Slightly Irregular", as opposed to the Nordstrom "couture collection", but still...

Timmy responded by saying, "Yeah, but they're cruising for the stereotypical mid-life crisis, whereas we already got it out of the way." Not only did I love his cynicism (although I do NOT harbor ill-will toward any of my happily-married friends), but a light bulb went off in my head. I'd never thought of it that way! While the emotional scarring to ourselves and our significant others was real and horrible, we experienced it while we were young and before we owned homes, bought cars, shared bank accounts, or (GOD FORBID!), had children.

We both grew up with divorced parents and most of our friends didn't. But, we were high-achieving (Mr. and Ms. Most Valuable Senior), relatively well-adjusted, and observant. Neither of us were abused, neglected or subjected to the horrors some kids experience with step family integration, but we did experience some of the inherent discomfort and disruption that comes along with being a kid in a divorce situation. At an early age, I vowed that I was, "never going to get divorced." I assumed, of course, that I'd do things the way my parents did and get married at a young age, have some kids relatively soon afterward and settle into my family life. It never occurred to me that what I was really saying was, "I'm never going to put my kids through a divorce."

I'm sure there is research on this somewhere. I'm sure that the unprecidented divorce rate amongst baby boomers has prompted researchers to look more closely at their children and the choices they make as a result of the popular parenting trends and methods used on them. I'd be interested to see what those studies conclude. Of course, overlapping data about level of education, socioeconomics, and gender would also be important, since clearly family alone doesn't determine behavioral trends. All of this would be interesting, but for now, I'm just relieved by the anecdotal implications.

I am not proud of the way I've conducted my love life. I've been immature, stubborn, dramatic, unfair, and at times, a little pathetic. But, I've also been devoted, faithful, generous, patient and honest. I know my capacity for love is huge and that I make a good partner. I am fairly confident that the next time I embark on a serious relationship, I'll be doing so with a substantial arsenal of knowledge, experience and soberness. I'm also fairly sure that the mistakes of my 20s are just that--mistakes. And, fortunately, I didn't have to make the decisions I've made with anyone but myself and my partner in mind--yet another revealing piece of wisdom and perspective I've gained from my misadventurous 20s and just in time for me to embark on what I hope will be a more flattering decade for me.

The Secret to Happiness Is...

Low expectations!

That's right. Keep your expectations low and you will be happy with whatever you can get. According to this article I read , it is a long-held secret of the Danish people and now it's found its way across the Atlantic to the US. Admittedly, the Danes are in a better position to KEEP their expectations low. Denmark is a country of 5.5 million people, of whom, 90.9% are 100% Danish, (therefore, there's no need for an Affirmative Action equivalent). They are also a Monarchy and have been forever, so the people are accustomed to having decisions made for them and therefore feel little pressure, I'd imagine, to become overly invested in matters of State. There is also relatively little wage disparity and education is free for all citizens, virtually eliminating crime, greed and corrupt ambition. Even Oprah said that, "a simple life and strong social system make Denmark one of the best places on Earth to live."

Would that I were Danish.

But, I'm an American. America, a country with vast wage disparity, overpriced-underfunded education and a legacy of "boot straps" founders. A country where ambition is admired but also where complacency is tolerated. A country of great diversity where opportunity is limitless and wealth is encouraged. A country where hard work and perseverance are the keys to success and achievement. A country where everyone's expectations are too high, including mine.

I recently talked to a family member who informed me that I should start adjusting to the idea that I will never achieve much more than a comfortable life. I will probably never find a long-term career that will actualize my potential, I will probably never make enough money to have a family of any size, and I will probably always be haunted by my early employment because it will portray me as a liberal-leftest-opportunistic-female-liability. Great. Now they tell me.

The truth is, I agree with the Danes. It IS about keeping your expectations low--but not ALL of your expectations. It's about being okay with the fact that you may never be a CEO or President of anything, but it's not about being okay with the idea that you shouldn't still strive for the things you want. I can accept a bad economy and some tough breaks, but I also know that there are still ways that I can feel successful and capable within a broken system. Part of what makes the Danes happy with their lot (besides the astronomical wealth most enjoy compared to the rest of the world), is a healthy attitude about family, recreation and education. They travel, they enjoy culture and art, they embrace leisure and they take pride in who they are and where they come from.

Very few people can derive all of their necessary reward from their occupation. Where Americans have gone wrong is that we've let all of the other parts of a happy foundation fall to a lower status, in pursuit of money and importance. We have strained marriages, struggling parents, loose family affiliations, weak ties to faith/spirituality, and our internal directional compases are confused. We expect so much of ourselves and others around us that we can't help but find disappointment everywhere we look.

There is no "Secret to Happiness". Maybe it's a combination of expectations and achievement. Maybe it's faith and purpose. Maybe it's fulfillment and foundation. Regardless, it's a state of mind and the only way we adjust that is internally. I've found it through a greater appreciation of all of the things in my life that have NOTHING to do with my career.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

You Can Only Become Truly Accomplished at Something You Love.

You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don't make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can't take their eyes off you.

Maya Angelou