Needing to Focus

As I review the first couple weeks of my Level 10 Life, I’m noticing some disturbing trends. It seems that certain habits aren’t getting done at all and others are done every day. Writing this blog is an exercise designed to improve the career segment of life and it has been going well. I’m enjoying the writing process and hopefully you’re enjoying being along on this journey with me. Reading 30 minutes every day is designed to improve my personal development sector and something I generally don’t have a problem accomplishing. But there are other categories, especially 3 of them, where I’ve given myself the simplest habits and still can’t seem to accomplish them.

In the family and friends category, I find myself avoiding my “call or meet a friend once a week” habit despite it’s apparent simplicity. Only, it isn’t simple. You see, as I reflect on why I’m not making those calls, I’m realizing that many of my friends are in very negative places right now and I’m struggling to not feel drained. I am usually the one who reaches out and then I feel emotionally drained after the conversation from being supportive of all the stuff they’re going through and never getting reciprocal support for the things I’m struggling with. While I do want to continue to be there for those friends, I’m considering an amendment to the SMART goal. I’m thinking my goal needs to be to find additional friends who can be mutually supportive to balance out my time with the other friends. On the surface, this feels selfish, but as I look closer, I think it’s probably better for all of us. No one deserves to have a friend who is resentful of the time they give you, and I’ve become that; I’ve become resentful of one-sided relationships that take away all of my energy. In order to be a better friend, I need to stop relying on those relationships for something they aren’t giving and expecting to get something our of them that I’m not. I am not really sire if changing goals is “technically” allowed, but I think this is a good call.

Which brings us to the Health and Fitness category. I’m struggling with 2 of the 3 goals in this category and doing pretty well at the third. The problem is, that this category is one I feel really needs a lot of work right now. I quit smoking 5 years ago, when I started school, and have doubled in size since then. I get out of breath easily, ache all over, and feel like if my body & health don’t get the attention, I might not live long enough to accomplish the things on my bucket list. I’m just now starting to have grandchildren and I want to be around, and actively able, to participate in their lives for quite some time. So for the remainder of this week, I’ll be heavily focused on the 3 SMART goals for that category. I will be getting on the treadmill for at least 10 minutes, 5 days each week. I will be getting to sleep (or at least laying in bed in the quiet dark trying to sleep) by midnight each night. I will continue to restrict my calorie window to no more than 10 hours. The 10-hour calorie window has been going well, but neither of the other 2 have happened a single time in the last 3 weeks and that just cannot go on. For the next couple weeks, these will be my priority and I will “Eat the Frog” by trying to accomplish the treadmill first thing in the morning. We’ll see how it goes.

The third area I’m currently struggling with is the Physical Environment category. This was going quite well initially. You might remember reading about emptying out my storage unit and letting most of it go. The only problem is, I brought home some of the more valuable and unique items with the intention of selling them and they are now cluttering my daily personal space. I need to spend a day photographing and posting these items for sale so they can move on to new homes where they will be useful or bring their new owners joy. Their presence (this overwhelming clutter) has also alerted me to the added items I have laying around the house that are not useful, or beautiful and don’t bring me joy. So after everything is photographed and posted for sale, I need to go through every corner of the house again and purge the clutter. I think once the physical clutter is gone, I will feel much happier in my physical space and hopefully be able to focus better on the other habits I need to work on.

So those are my 3 struggles and how I plan to tackle them in the next few weeks. I hope you will stick around to hold me accountable here and maybe find a couple things you need to work on as well. If you are looking for someone to be accountable to, feel free to share in the comments and I’ll check in periodically to see how you are coming along. I hope we can all help one another get closer to lives we want and deserve!

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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.

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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!

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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