Working Through Unexpected Obstacles

My goal was to write five blog posts this week and I was off to a great start…. three in a row. So of course, the universe decided to throw me for a loop. I had a nice part-time job at a small, local architecture firm for the past 2 years of school. It provided me with real-world experience and flexible hours during school and the people I worked with were nice. Unfortunately, the salary was about half what I should be making and the job offered no benefits. In addition, I’d kind of peaked and was simply doing the same thing over and over again. As an architectural intern, it’s important for my education to continue at my job, so that one day I will be a better architect. So, I left the job in July.

Tuesday I got a frantic text from a former co-worker. She is pregnant and was suddenly put on bed rest and wondered if I could come back in to work this week to finish up a project she was working on that is due Friday. I checked my schedule and let her know that, yes, I could help her. I’m now worried that I might regret that decision.

You see, I’d gotten away. I have been looking for one of those jobs out there that I know is a better fit. It’s uncomfortable and scary to be out of work and searching, but I was doing it. Going back was too easy. They love me there, and they miss me and they have repeatedly asked me to come back. It would be an easy thing to do. They offered to keep my hours down to 20/week so I could still look for work. I’d have a few more funds coming in, which would definitely help right now. They even offered me a raise. But I’m not going to do it. I can’t.

I need to value myself before others will see that value. I graduated top of my class. My skills are worth those big firm jobs with competitive salaries, seemingly endless benefits, exciting work culture and a clear pathway to licensure. I am worthy of a job that will move my career forward instead of pigeon-holing me into a role that doesn’t allow me to grow as a future architect. I need to say no. Despite the fact that I think my co-workers are fantastic people, despite the fact that it is comfortable and easy there; and despite the fact that I know they really need my help for more than just this week. So I will help them meet this deadline, because I made that commitment and I am a woman of my word. But then, I will say goodbye and I will walk away. They will find someone else to fill my position, as they should have done when I left the first time. They may struggle for a few weeks, but it will be better for all of us in the long term.

I will continue on the path towards the job I need and want to move me forward. These past few days back at my old job have been busy (but not necessarily productive) and I’ve found myself too busy to meet my own goals and deadlines; and that can no longer continue. I have to keep telling myself, “It’s ok to walk away from things not meant for you. It’s also ok if not everyone understands your path as you do so. Many people take what life gives them and don’t understand someone who is actively looking for something better. That’s ok. Wish them well on their journey and continue on yours, without worrying about their criticism. If you know it’s right, you owe it to yourself to go for it.”

With that in mind, I’m going to continue to value myself and follow my path; and I know someday soon the right company will value me as well.

Overcome-Business-Obstacles

Finances… Otherwise Known as Torture.

Finances are one of those topics most people dread talking about, reading about and, more than anything, doing anything about. Dealing with finances usually means lots of numbers and even more deprivation. Do you enjoy your morning cappuccino? If so, that’s too bad, because most financial advice columns are going to tell you that’s the first thing you need to give up to become financially fit. It’s a numbers game, and if you feel like you’re winning at it, just read a few tidbits of advice and you’ll feel like a loser pretty darn quick. This is especially true for me right now. I’ve been a full-time college student for 5 years now; there’s no going to architecture school part time. This means I’ve incurred a mortgage-worth of student loan debt and, since I was rarely able to work more than 12 hours per week, my finances are a mess in other areas as well. The financial segment of the Level 10 Life didn’t look so good during my assessment.

I have a small IRA that would make a 21-year-old pretty envious… which would be great, if I wasn’t 45 already. By now, I’m supposed to have 3-times my annual salary saved and I’m only at 1/100th of that. I had a small 401k once upon a time, which saved us from homelessness during the recession, but unfortunately disappeared in the process. I wrote down my expectations for Level 10, cried a while, ate way too many cookies, and then resolved to figure out (somehow) how to get there. One thing I realized is that I will never live enough hours to get there on wages alone; it’s going to take some other strategies to do it. So, I spent the last half of August reading about finances. I’m not talking about the articles that tell you give up that morning coffee because, let’s face it, at this point that is not going to cut it. I’m talking about how money works and especially, how it works most effectively.

I decided to start living on only 70% of my already meager income. Since I’m not working at the moment, this amounts to back child support my ex owes me from 15 years ago, when he decided not paying child support for over a year sounded fabulous. We came to an agreement at the end of that time that he would continue to pay support when the children were grown until that back support was paid off. It’s a small amount, but it’s something. I also contacted all of my utilities and negotiated lower rates on my monthly bills, redid my car insurance and am emptying out and selling items I’ve had in a storage unit. I’ve cut my monthly bills by about $400/month and am making a little money on the storage unit stuff. I’m also helping a friends who just had surgery by cleaning her home once a week for a few weeks. But just having money coming in isn’t as important as how to spend it, so I created a financial plan and have stuck to it for the first month so far. Here’s how it goes.

All the money I receive for the month goes into a “holding” account. This is a savings account that earns interest. This is not the money I will spend this month; it is for next month. This way, I know for certain ahead of time what amount I am working with and what I can and can’t afford that coming month. Plus, the money earns a small amount of interest while it waits to be divided. At the beginning of the month, I divide up the money in my holding account as follows:

  • 35% – Needs – these are things I need to live, like food, shelter, transportation for work, electric and natural gas. The food included here is the basics. Anything fancy falls under the wants.
  • 21% – Wants – this is anything I want, such as wifi, cellphones, restaurants, movie night, or that morning cup of coffee. It doesn’t matter what these items are, but I cannot exceed this pre-determined amount in the month. If the budgeted funds are gone, I have to do without it until the next month. If I want to upgrade to the iPhone X, I might have to give up coffee for a few months. Simple and effective.
  • 14% – Debt Reduction  – I have a small amount left on my car loan and will soon have to start paying on student loans. The required monthly payment is in the needs category above, but whatever amount is here is what I add to the payment of my highest interest debt so that I get the loans paid off faster.
  • 10% – Passive Venture – this is set it and forget it investing. I have a small investment account with a low-fee index fund and a couple shares of stock, all of which have reinvested yearly dividends. It is usually making money at a slightly better rate than inflation. I’m working on diversifying my portfolio now to include bonds, gold, and commodities to protect against market fluctuations. There may be other opportunities for this segment of money at a later time, but right now this is where it’s going.
  • 10% – Active Venture – this is the money that supports the side-hustle. This is the money that could be used to start an online dropship business or purchase real estate.
  • 5% – Retirement – There’s a lot of advice on retirement funds. I have a Roth IRA and try to make sure I fund it to the max whenever possible. Even when I can’t, I always try to put in a small part of my income into it so I feel like I’m making some kind of progress.
  • 2.5% – Emergency Fund – I’m determined to be ready if another recession hits. I’m working on having a 1-year emergency fund to keep me going. It’s being funded slowly but surely and is always kept in an interest-earning (1.2% APY) savings account. I’ll be moving it to a higher-interest Beam account (2-4% APY) as soon as they get to me in their gradual roll-out process… I’m on the list!
  • 2.5% – Personal Goal – I think it’s important to have something you’re working for that is set aside from the rest of your finances and special. In my case, I’m going to Italy… maybe not this year, or next… but eventually. It keeps me excited about my financial plan because if I stick to it long enough, I will have an amazing trip to look forward to.
  • Charity – You may have noticed that the above categories add up to 100 already and may think I’m being awfully selfish. In reality, I am donating another valuable resource at the moment… time. Non-profit organizations definitely need money to keep them going, but they also need people willing to donate their time. While I’m working towards putting myself in a good place financially (so I can ultimately give more money) I am donating my time on a regular basis. It’s important to me to always give back somehow, so that will always be part of my financial plan.

I know my plan may take a bit of tweaking as I go along, but it’s a good mix of taking care of my current needs and my future needs simultaneously. It’s hard to get used to living on 70%, but as I see my investments going up, my loans going down and my net worth being positively effected, it makes me feel better about that awful budgeting and even allows me to fully enjoy an occasional cappuccino, guilt free!

Nikon D50

Getting it Done

Today I’m looking at my Level 10 goals new habit list and I’m finding myself completely unmotivated to do any of them. It just seems to be one of those days. I really didn’t even feel like getting out from under the covers this morning. This happens once in a while, but usually only when it’s cold outside. Right now it’s over 80 and sunny here in SW Michigan and I’m a little confused about why I’m not in the mood to do anything. Now some of you can maybe relate… maybe you don’t like working out, or cleaning the house, or studying for monstrous tests, or eating healthy? The problem is, that I also have things on my list like… call and talk to a friend, sketch, walk in nature, read for 30 minutes, and write for 15 minutes… and I don’t even want to do any of those today. So what am I going to do?

Well, I may have procrastinated a little bit, but I’m forcing myself to pick 3 items off the list and do them anyway. The first of these was to call a friend (Friends & Family goal)… Done. It wasn’t hard, it didn’t hurt, and despite the fact that I didn’t want to do it, I felt a little better after it was done. The next one I’m tackling is right now… write for 15 minutes (Career goal). Writing about the fact that I am not in the mood to write seems a little awkward, but I’m getting it done, and maybe working through this mental block at the same time. The third task I’ll tackle today is to go walk in nature (Personal Development goal). There’s a beach down the road and only a few more pleasant days to walk on it this year… plus the vitamin D may help with this funk I seem to find myself in today.

So what’s the lesson in all of this? Progress in life usually isn’t made in big changes; it’s in small daily habits that we barely notice. Today I may not have wanted to participate in my new, better daily habits, but I know they are for my own benefit, so I did them anyway. I also may not feel very good about having gotten them done, or the way I got them done, but that’s ok. Some days are always going to be better than others, but when I look back on my habit tracker in 6 months, I’m not going to see any of that. In 6 months, I’m just going to see that check mark in the box that says, “I did it!” and because of that I will become the person I’ve intentionally decided to become instead of just the person who takes what life throws at them. Because of these 3 check marks today, I may eventually move closer to level 10 in 3 different areas of life. Because I chose to something, anything, instead of nothing, I have accomplished something I set out to do and can feel successful.

The lesson I’m taking away is that life, and achieving your dreams, is not always going to be easy. Sometimes life is hard, sometimes just showing up is enough, and sometimes showing up is the hardest part of all. Today I showed up, even though it was hard, and I am a better person for it.

Getting-things-done

I’m writing, again!

franz-kafka-quotes-sayings-non-writing-writer-insanity

So one day doesn’t make a habit, and neither does two… but two days is twice as many on the way to starting a habit and I am on day two of my daily writing habit. Yesterday I talked about how I worked through a Level 10 Life assessment and generated 3 SMART goals in each of the 10 categories (read that post here). Well, one of my goals in the career category was to start writing daily again. It’s something that scares me and that I sometimes drift away from every now and then, and therefore it’s actually one of the more important habits I want to get back into.

They say that everyone has a book inside them waiting to come out. I know that to be true because mine started to come out and I shoved it right back up in there and tried to ignore it. In 2009, I found my career in marketing (like so many others) to be a victim of the recession. I had quite a bit of time on my hands and I’d always wanted to write. My marketing background made me decide to start a blog. I figured I would use it to learn about social media marketing, which was the latest buzzword in the marketing world, by signing up for a couple mentorships and promoting my blog writing. Turns out, people enjoyed it. I soon had a nice group of readers, we got on well, and they supported me as I entered and won contests on other websites for my writing. It was a great feeling. Writing the blog every day was easy; there were few other obligations to get in the way. I was a divorced stay-at-home mom writing online and I loved it.

After a year, I decided to get a little more ambitious and write a novel. I had an idea running around in my head that was dying to get out on paper. So I dug in. I created character charts, working hard on developing characters that weren’t black and white, but varying shades of gray to make them more believable. I outlined my plot arc and found it to be sufficient to probably write a trilogy instead of a single story. I worked through where those arcs would end, so that if you finished a book it felt like you had read a complete story and yet still wanted to know what happened next. I edited other authors’ works so that I could gain experience on how the story would progress and how the books would ultimately be structured. I worked on my book every day for at least an hour, but often more. It began to kind of take over my life and sometimes my blog writing suffered for the sake of the book, but it was all writing, so that was ok.

It was an amazing experience, and then something happened. I had to create the environment in which the characters interact. The story takes place in a semi-fictional location (but still on earth), giving me the opportunity to create it any way I wanted within the framework of basic physics. I started planning a city. I thought about the way the streets were formed; were there cars or carriages or another form of transportation that hasn’t been invented yet? What was their technology, and how would that effect the design of buildings. Were people comfortable enough to have their homes infused with technology? At the time, the idea of a device eavesdropping on your home (Alexa), waiting for you to order a pizza, or request a song be played, or to remind you to call your mother in an hour was still pretty scary stuff. Most people were still skeptical of who or what would be listening and how that information might be used against them. Many people still are. I thought that might make a “utopia” with advanced technology somewhere that an average person might find a little creepy, to say the least. An excellent place for more character development.

I spent so much time envisioning the design of the buildings that I started to look at the buildings around me and wonder why we couldn’t have buildings like I was envisioning. I wondered if what I was thinking was impossible to build. I started to become obsessed with architecture. The more I tried to write, the more I questioned the architectural environment I was putting my characters in. I would take out paper and sketch instead of writing. Even if I wanted to write a description of the environment, I would sketch out the basics of it in order to properly describe it. I found that I liked working on the architecture more than writing the story. I was beyond distracted.

By this point it was 2011. I started to look at the possibility of going back to architecture school. I had been out of work for 2 years at this point and thought I must clearly have flipped my lid if I thought I was going to incur mountains of debt to obtain a fancy degree halfway through life, but the idea persisted; it just wouldn’t let go. I enrolled in a community college first and spent a year in art classes, loving every minute of it. I went on to architecture school and felt like I’d finally found what I was meant to be doing. It’s not that it wasn’t hard, or frustrating, or full of moments where I just wanted to quit; but it just felt like it was where I was meant to be.

Now architecture school leaves little time for anything else and writing was quick to fall to the wayside. To be honest, I was so busy that I hardly even missed it. When I really needed a writing fix, I found a way to argue with one of my unfortunately unlucky friends on Facebook; not the good friends, because I happen to be really good at arguing and often find myself blocked when the poor soul can no longer come up with replies to my arguments. Yet for the most part, writing had become a thing of the past.

It wasn’t until I graduated and started to look at how mono-focused I had become that I realized how much I really enjoyed writing… it’s part of who I am. That story is still stuck inside me, wanting to get out; the blog is still in me, wanting to be written; and most importantly, I’m running out of casual friends to argue with (and potentially lose) on Facebook. So when I looked at the career spoke of the Level 10 life wheel, I just couldn’t envision that area ever becoming a Level 10 unless writing was part of it. I set the SMART goal to write for at least 15 minutes a day… so here I am today, ready to finish up my second blog post and make it through one more day of rebuilding my daily writing habit. It feels cathartic. It feels good. It feels like coming home, and I thank you for following along with me.

 

 

You’ve Gotta Start Somewhere

It’s always a struggle to write the first blog post. I’ve done it a few times. The pressure is on. What will the blog become? What are you going to create? The initial compass direction is set by this single introductory blog post.

Here we go…

Does action follow motivation or does motivation follow action?

Have you ever sat in an art class and been given a large, blank sheet of paper and a black marker. It is one of the most anxiety-ridden moments. The black marker means that whatever you draw, from the first stroke, is permanent. You have to begin with end in mind. Your actions end up having to follow the motivation of what you ultimately want to draw… or do they?

In my first architecture studio, we started every class with 10 minute sketches… sometimes pencil, sometimes pen. One day, our professor instructed us to use only pen and, before even showing us what we were going to draw, instructed us to make a large scribble on the page with the pen. It was terrifying… and yet, it was incredibly freeing. The big fear in making that first mark is a potential mistake. By making the mistake right out of the gate… taking action, it was easy to complete the sketch. You had to find a way to incorporate the mistake. As Bob Ross used to say, “There are no mistakes, only happy little accidents.” We ended up drawing the Leaning Tower of Pisa that day, and it’s one of my favorite sketches from that first year of architecture school.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately as I struggle with my current, unproductive lifestyle. I am waiting for that perfect job posting from the employer I want to work for. I finished the required education, I diligently researched all the firms I want to work for, I signed up for job updates from all of those firms, and now I’m spinning my wheels. It’s frustrating and depressing to wait around for something to happen and I’m often tempted to just go out and apply to some of the firms I didn’t really like, just because I know they are hiring. They don’t offer the benefits, the future opportunities or the firm culture I’m seeking, but they’re looking; and I could get a job now and be working by next  week. It’s the ultimate motivation (money) and I find myself drawn to take action; especially since I’m not doing a lot more than sitting around in a holding pattern right now. Yet, I look to the Leaning Tower exercise and I wonder if it might be better to scribble on the paper first and then draw.

I’ve decided to do just that. I’m working on other areas of my life right now to keep me busy while I wait. There are a lot of things I’ve lost focus of while in school and I’d become very one-dimensional… all architecture, all the time. As I start to really look at and assess the rest of  my life, I realize that there are a lot of places I need to pay a little attention to before I dive right into a new job. To help me focus, I completed a Level 10  Life assessment spreadsheet in my bullet journal. For anyone who isn’t familiar with this process, it is an exercise from Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Morning. The process involves identifying where you are at (on a scale of 1-10) in 10 areas of life, compared to where you want to be. The categories are:

  1. Friends & Family
  2. Personal Development
  3. Spirituality
  4. Finances
  5. Career
  6. Relationship
  7. Fun & Recreation
  8. Giving & Contribution
  9. Physical Environment
  10. Health & Fitness

Then you create a goal (or up to 10, depending on which journal spread you follow) to improve your life to the next level in each category. These aren’t wishes, they are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time sensitive) goals. I opted for 3 goals in each category and you will likely hear me talk about them a lot. The process helped me focus on other things I can (and should) work on while I’m waiting for those job openings I’m really interested in. It also helps get me active again, which may cause me to accidentally find new opportunities I didn’t even know to consider before. By getting active, I am motivating myself to become a better person and, by extension, a better candidate for whatever job I apply for.

I guess the takaway is this: if you can’t find the motivation to take action, don’t despair. Take action in some direction and look for the motivation to follow. There is not only one way to sketch a tower. LeaningTower_Pisa_2