Monthly Archives: December 2008

The Road Not Taken – A Tale of Engagement

The following is a guest post from frequent commenter Curmudgeon. This post is his second guest post (“who am I?” was his first). Enjoy!


Here’s a situation you may find yourself in at some time in your life. I have a job. It’s a moderately responsible, moderately stressful, yet moderately enjoyable job for which I am paid moderately well (especially by the standards of this industry). I was promoted into this job from a subordinate role after a surprisingly short time at the company.

Well, thanks in large part to the economy (the employer just went through a significant layoff), I’m now told that I can’t be compensated at my new, higher level during 2009. I understand my employer’s point of view – I have been with the company less than a year, and have yet to prove myself at the higher level. And money is tight.

But it means that I have a decision to make. I have a standing offer of another job at what I might call a “lifestyle company,” one that is privately owned and run largely for the enjoyment and stimulation of the owners. Nonetheless, it is profitable, and the owners are willing to invest in it, and it is likely to be more enjoyable and certainly less stressful than what I am doing today. The downside is that it would be about a ten percent pay cut, a serious loss of coin but still within my means.

Perhaps because I live only a few miles from the Robert Frost homestead, I frequently consider the road not taken in life. I’m certainly not on the high performance fast track to anywhere in my career, but I have come to expect decent salaries and recognition for hard work and achievement. So it is a natural thought that I am, at this point in my career, giving too much and getting too little in return. Especially since I have available a slower-paced alternative.

A decade or so ago I was an academic – a college professor. I had a colleague in his mid-50s, a tenured professor with a PhD and loads of experience. However, at a time when I thought a professional person might fully test themselves, to reach for that last rung of the career or intellectual ladder because there would never be a better opportunity to do so, his only goal in life was to shrink his intellectual scope to the point where only the trivial mattered to him.

Now, I am not in my mid-50s, but if I stood on my toes and strained my eyesight, I just may be able to see it from here (with my multifocals on). To back off in energy or intellect now seems to accept that I will never again achieve at a high level.

In the end, I want to reach for that next rung of the ladder. I choose to continue to engage the world around me to the best of my abilities, for as long as I can. I hope that you do too.

Attribution Some rights reserved :  photo by Enchant_me

what to do if you like your job but hate your career…


…or vice versa.

You may be thinking about changing your career path. Maybe your “career” – the actual work you do – no longer appeals to you.  Or maybe the work environment (long commutes? corporate offices? 9-to-5 hours turning into 9-to-8 hours?) has lost what little fascination it once held for you – we’ll call this “the job”.  People often confuse the two; I did.    You may love your career but dislike your employer or the location of your office.  You might be a graphic designer who works for a big firm in a large city with a long commute; you still want to work in graphic design but you want to work from home or you want a freelance structure.

You might, however, dislike the career but enjoy the job. One of my ex-colleagues fit this mold.  He was dismissive of the actual career we had (working in the finance area of a Fortune 500 company) but he loved the corporate environment – the business travel, the office politics and most importantly being able to tell people he worked on Wall Street.  He was willing to endure his career so he could enjoy the job.

There are two more categories, of course – people who hate their career and their job, and people who love their career and their job. If you hate both, what are you doing reading this article?  Get your resume out there or start studying for a new career, but do something.  You don’t need to quit today – in these tough times everyone needs to be putting away as much money as they can to prepare for a long job search – but if you hate where you work and what you do you’re going to be miserable; if not tomorrow, soon.

If you’re lucky enough to love where you work and what you do, you probably aren’t reading this article, either!  I am sure that a minority are lucky enough to love their career and enjoy the job environment they work in.  Those happy few have what the rest of us want (even if we don’t know it yet).

What to do if you like your career and hate the job

If you like what you do, but you hate your co-workers or the commute’s too long or the hours are too long or the pay’s too low, the solution is easy:  find a new employer or go out on your own, but stay in your field.  I did this about five years ago; I thought I was good enough in finance to stick with it as a career, but I wanted to slow down on the hours and the travel and the politics.  Becoming a contract consultant let me continue in a familiar field but detach from the parts of the job I didn’t like.   If you like what you do but you simply hate the environment – for whatever reason – the job is easier to change than your career.  Get a new job – find a new employer, find a non-traditional way to earn a living in that field, even start your own business.  But there is no need for additional education, or starting over in a new field, or rebuilding your network.  All you need is to move on to a new job.

What to do if you like the job and hate your career

If you enjoy the office, but you don’t like what you’re doing while you are there, you are in a much tougher position.  If you like your employer, but you don’t like your career, you have to ask yourself what you like about the job.  If you like the work environment because of your co-workers or the comfy cubicle you’re sitting in or the good pay, you are in a position that most people would envy.  If you bothered to tell anyone that you wanted a change from a “great job” just because you didn’t enjoy the actual work, most people would tell you you’re crazy.  “Suck it up!” “Everyone hates their job!  Be glad you have a nice-paying job!  And you have a Dunkin’ Donuts in the building!”

Don’t let that stop you from making a change – that is not the way to think. Letting people tell you that you should hammer away doing something you hate just because it pays well or you enjoy Thursday drinks with your co-workers is a dead end.  You will never succeed at something you hate; it is hard to face 30+ years of toil at something you do not enjoy.  Many people do it, of course.  In America, the Protestant work ethic has created an image of selfless toil – the idea that work is meant to be endured, not enjoyed.  We are fortunate in the Western world that we don’t have to believe this image.  You can find something you enjoy doing.  You can recreate that environment you love, but this time you can do something that you love in an environment you love. Just reading that sentence ought to fill your mind with possibilities – how could you not succeed if that were the case?

How do you know which is which?

For years (I think) I disliked my career but I didn’t mind my job, and sometimes I even enjoyed it.  The travel and the business perks were enjoyable.  I didn’t enjoy what I did, but I never realized it until I had been doing it for years.  I never got “in the zone.”  I never stayed a few minutes later out of interest.  I never read about my field in my spare time.  When I switched from being an employee to being a consultant, all the trappings of “the job” were gone.  The staff, the title, the business class travel, the business dinners at fine restaurants – they disappeared.  I was a consultant – no staff, no title.  Nothing was left but my career, and when I looked at it I realized the only thing about my career and my job that remained to motivate me was the money; nothing else.

If you can’t bear to look at a magazine about your field, or read a few news articles about your career you don’t like your career.  If you can get caught up in what you do (you can enter that mythical “zone” by talking about what you do or preparing for a big meeting) but you can’t get out of bed in the morning because you dread seeing your boss one more time or listening that idiot Larry in the next cube drone on in the staff meeting or eating in the commissary with your co-workers, you hate your job.  Get moving, and get out.

Don’t ever despair. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the decision to build it probably was made in a day.  If you let each day echo into tomorrow, soon your life will be filled with nothing but echos of your yesterdays.

photo by Stewf –  some rights reserved

Merry Christmas

Santa Claus
photo credit: Grzegorz Łobiński

For those of you celebrating Christmas, enjoy it – and for those of you who don’t, enjoy it, too! It’s a day off, right?  In my household we’ve got an oddly extended holiday season running through our whole ethnic/cultural mix. Starting with Hanukkah (potato pancakes), through Christmas (here comes Rudolph and Santa), and through New Year’s (the biggest holiday of the year in the Russian secular tradition – Ded Moroz and Snegurochka) we use all of these holidays as an excuse to eat, drink and be merry. One of these years we’ll probably throw in Orthodox Christmas just to keep the holiday season careening along for two weeks.

Merry Christmas!

how to soothe a crying baby

A life lesson, using a child as an example:  when my son was born, we were good parents. When he cried, we ran to him.  We rocked him, sang him comforting songs in English and Russian.  We gave him milk to get him to sleep.  We slept in the room with him. We still do.  He sleeps in fits and spurts.  He’s a great kid, but his sleep patterns are erratic.

When my daughter was born, we were good parents. When she cried, we waited.  We rocked her sometimes, but put her down at the first sign of drowsiness.  We sang to her when she was awake, but never to put her to sleep.  We gave her milk sometimes, but often put her to sleep long after milk.  We never stay in the room with her.  She sleeps through the night occasionally – something we never could have imagined with my son at her age, or even now.

The life lesson?  Constant attention is not always the answer.

1.  Your spouse does not need your constant attention. People are individuals.  When you get married, you are not a cyborg unit, a fusion of male and female (or otherwise, depending on your state’s legal system).  You are two individuals who love each other.  Back off a bit sometimes.

2.  Children need to grow and explore – and here’s the shocker, they don’t need you ALL THE TIME. I thought I had to entertain my son 24/7.  He’s a brilliant boy (I’m an objective observer) but he’s highly dependent on interaction.  Maybe that means he’s going to be president in 2044.  Who knows?  But my daughter already shows independence and the ability to entertain herself.  One of the keys to life is to be happy with yourself, and although that can come from interacting with others or from spending time alone, kids do need to develop the alone-time skill first.

3.  Work does not require constant attention. Back off a bit.  Have a life away from work.  Don’t think that your company will fail without you.  It will not.  I promise you.  Try it – stay home for a day and turn off the phone and email.  It will still be there tomorrow.

4.  Money will wait. If your finances are great – or shoddy – they will not change drastically if you look at every penny or if you let slide a few dollars.  Make an overall guiding philosophy, then let the small things slide.  Constant attention to every expenditure in your life is not necessary.

The term “accidental parenting” applies to a lot of decisions made by parents – overindulgence in one area creates problems later in life. “Accidental life planning” or “accidental money planning” would be equally apt terms.  I’ve always found it amusing that I’m considered one of the most draconian and strict parents in my neighborhood.  I don’t view myself that way, and according to most of the parenting books I read we are on the lax end of the scale.

The most important thing to learn is that nobody benefits from being treated like a baby, not even babies. Not friends, not family, not kids, not parents.  Our financial, social, intellectual and spiritual lives don’t need to be treated like babies, either.  Push your kids and your own limits and you’ll all benefit.  Push yourself and limits won’t matter.

quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

translation:  Who watches the watchmen?

The Comedian's Cupcake
photo credit: marceatsworld
(and if you don’t know what that’s from – read the book)

Let’s say you have a business that sells widgets. You have a warehouse and a showroom.  You hire security to watch both the warehouse and the showroom.  Your store manager forgets to lock the door to the showroom more or less every night, but he (and you) shrug it off every day since, well, there’s security there and they are supposed to verify that the doors are locked after hours.  You assume the doors are getting locked.  Then one day the store gets robbed.  The door wasn’t locked, and the security guard claimed that, well, they weren’t responsible because it’s the store manager’s job to do it.  Look, it says so in the store manual.

So what do you do? Fire the store manager, sure.  Fire security?  Probably, but at a minimum you ask them to make a few changes.  But do you give them a whopping huge new contract to also guard the warehouse?  And do you ask the same people who didn’t notice the unlocked doors to check for unlocked doors at the warehouse?

That’s what our government has done. Look at a few recently infamous corporations and their auditors:

  • AIG (PricewaterhouseCoopers)
  • Lehman Brothers (Ernst & Young)
  • Citigroup (KPMG)

The list goes on and on, but two of the “Big 4” firms are noteworthy:  PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Ernst and Young (E&Y). Why?  They won the contracts to help with the accounting for the bailout fund – the Troubled Asset Relief Program.   The government even publicly released the contracts although the names of the partners and the rates to be paid have been redacted.

I spent a long time working for the-then-Big-6, and from that experience I can state with some confidence that this is not the last time they’ll make mistakes in such dramatic fashion. Too much of the work is performed by the junior staff, working long hours auditing financial instruments that the client themselves barely understand.  Too many of the contracts are too huge for the firms to casually toss aside the client if the books are not as accurate as the auditors would like.  And my opinion is that the government realized after the collapse of Arthur Andersen in the wake of the Enron scandal that the rest of the Big 4 could not be allowed to suffer the same fate.  They are now, like so many other multinational corporations, too big to fail.

A basic foundation of trust in our markets is the concept of an independent auditor. Knowing that you can pick up financial statements that have been audited by a firm of experts and found reasonable is a powerful incentive to invest in that company.  When the auditors demonstrate – again and again – that they are unable to detect widespread weaknesses in a company, should we continue to trust them as they offer an opinion on the next company?  When will the industry fail badly enough that it, too, will not be allowed to continue?  The only alternative seems to be turning the Securities and Exchange Commission into an uber-auditor (effectively nationalizing the Big 4) but as we’ve seen the government may not be much good at the auditing game, either.  Until real accountability is assigned for the dramatic and massive failures of management AND the inability of the auditors to detect those failures, public trust in the markets will continue to erode – and nobody wants to see that.

wait until tomorrow to change


I entered accounting for a simple reason. Having spent time in Germany during high school as an exchange student, I was itching to get back.  I realized two semesters into my mathematics PhD that getting a PhD in math was clearly not going to help me achieve this goal.  I also thought that it wouldn’t achieve another goal, making money.  So I dropped out my PhD program and spent a long time trying to come up with a list of career paths that would make money and let me live a jet-setting life.  Be careful what you wish for.

My accounting MBA helped me achieve one of my goals: I lived the jet-set lifestyle.  I traveled for ten years to all corners of the globe – from Siberia to Indonesia to South America to Boston (Boston was colder than Siberia).  I made a lot of money.  I thought this was what a career was, and by any measure I was quite successful.  I zipped right up the corporate ladder and thought the progression up was itself purpose and goal, wrapped into one.

During that time I had one – 1 – boss I liked working for, out of maybe 5 or 6. That’s not a good ratio.  A saying I heard once – I wish I remember where – was that the only common element in all of your bad relationships is you, so I’m sure that some of the bosses weren’t bad – I was just a bad employee.  So be it.  I always had the skills to do the job, and I did my job well (at least that’s what my performance reviews and clients always said).  But something was wrong, and it got worse as time went by. That’s when I realized that the net enjoyment I was getting out of my job had turned negative.  Long hours, tense relationships with bosses, and a stressful profession started taking their toll.  After I got married I knew things had to change.

I am a risk-taker when it comes to my career, and at the same time I am risk-averse. I abruptly changed career paths in college, going from a mathematics PhD program to an MBA program.  I went to live and work in Russia during the chaotic 90s.  I have worked on audits and frauds where I have had bodyguards to protect me.  But I hate taking risks and my risk-taking muscle has atrophied over the years – or maybe it was just strained from overwork.  I wasn’t ready to leap from paycheck world to entrepreneurial world, so I took a halfway step, going to contract consulting.  I just couldn’t imagine going further, even though I wanted to – badly.

In retrospect this was a mistake. The early aughts (whatever we’re going to end up calling this decade) were a good time to take a chance.  Bubelah was still working, we didn’t have kids yet and the market favored individuals, not companies.  Most importantly, I needed to do something different.  If I learned one thing from my half-hearted shift to consulting, it is this little nugget, oft-repeated and seldom heeded:


Don’t think that next year will be the year you can finally get fit, or get out of this dead-end job, or start paying down that debt, or get around to skydiving or writing that novel or having kids or…well, whatever. It is time-worn advice, and I know many people (including me) dismiss it – eh, I’ve got the thing coming up with the people and the stuff… maybe tomorrow I’ll get on it.

I knew I was sick of corporate life. I knew I didn’t want to do it anymore.  I still don’t.  I have not missed it at all.  I thought I might be more nervous, or miss the interaction or the environment but I don’t.  At all.  And I can pinpoint the moment at which I got sick of working in this environment – the moment at which the net enjoyment went from positive to negative for the first time. You want to know the awful answer?

My first week at work after I graduated from college.


As I said, there were points when I was traveling to places I never would have gone (or chosen to go) when I was deeply grateful for my job. But I could have spent my time earning less money and taking more time off as a teacher after getting a math PhD and traveling (on a budget, admittedly) to the same places.  Traveling for business took me to some neat places, but some – like Warsaw, for example – I remember in conference rooms and hotel rooms and hotel bars and restaurants.   Many nights I ate dinner at 10 pm in the Warsaw Sheraton at the bar after another 16 hour day.  The only time I ever got to “see” Warsaw was when I took a day off after three weeks of 16 hour days to spend time with a former colleague of mine and her sister.  I saw the city for the first time after working there for three months.

But the big paychecks and the big travel and the big meetings all failed to deliver net enjoyment. I realized that I enjoy being at home most of the time, reading, writing, learning and maybe even playing. I know the pay’s not as good, but the net benefit to me is tremendous.  The net benefit to my family is significant.   I took risks to leave the US and work in a chaotic and dangerous country (at least, it was then)  once before.  Should I be scared to leave the corporate world?  Yes, but that shouldn’t stop me.  I left behind hundreds of colleagues who are OK with that kind of work – the pay makes it worth it, or the sense of self-worth from working on Wall Street or just the opportunity to get away from home a few days a week.  Not for me, and if it’s not for you, you shouldn’t wait until the perfect time to make a change either.

photo by taiyofj

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what if saving was stupid


Personal finance wisdom teaches us that you should always “save for the future.” You should take your current earnings and put at least some aside for the future.  That future may be a time when you need an emergency fund (health crises, car repairs, etc.) or a child’s education, or buying a house or retiring.  Hundreds of reasons we need to save can be identified, but underlying the “save for the future” mantra is a core belief – that money saved will be worth something in the future.

In the US the idea that saved money will be available in the future, and worth something, is not often questioned. We all know that inflation can eat away at the value of the dollar, but most of us don’t notice price changes over long periods of time.  You may notice that meat’s gone up, or that tomatoes are suddenly expensive, but with the exception of gas prices the changes are often gradual and we like to feel that our earnings are keeping up with the increase.

Over the last decade, the pay of an average wage earner has barely kept pace with inflation. Now, with interest rates falling – possibly to zero, depending on the Fed’s actions – money kept in CDs or high-yield savings accounts will barely keep up with inflation.  We all know how money “saved” in the stock market and real estate is performing.  Day after day, any money stashed away for the future is losing value.

The market is always up over time. Yes, true.  If you believe that, I hope you have all of your money invested in a total stock market fund.  But do you really want to take the chance that the day you need that money – whether it’s to get a downpayment for a house, or retire, or pay for a medical emergency – is going to be a day when the market’s up?  What if you needed it today?  Money in the market isn’t saved – it’s invested, and investment carries a risk that it won’t be there when you need it.

My wife’s family lived through this situation before. Her parents followed the rules in the Soviet Union.  Despite what you may have heard, their life wasn’t that different from life here in the West.  They had professional jobs.  They sent their kids to the best schools they could. They took care of their relatives, they went on vacation.  They saved money for the future.

Only the future wasn’t the one they (and millions like them) expected. When the Soviet Union collapsed the middle-class lifestyle and retirement and lives they had planned went up in smoke…fast.  Their jobs disappeared.  The value of their savings crashed to (literally) nothing.  Everything they had saved for vanished in a decade.  They still had the “things” they had bought and the education they had achieved, but their savings were gone.  They came to the States with their clothes.  Nothing else.

I’m not suggesting anything that drastic will happen in the US. I still have a lot of hope that we may see some rational governmental actions after January 20th.  And just like the dot-com boom or the real estate boom, there may be another fake boomlet to lift the economy back to life again (alternative energy, maybe)?  But in my own planning I’ve had to address something I once viewed as sacred as the law of gravity – maybe there’s not much point in saving money right now.

Debates over paying down the mortgage or investing in the market used to get kicked around a lot – I think now it’s clear that paying down your mortgage guarantees a rate of return and the eventual outright ownership of a place to live. Investing in the market might have bought you a piece of Lehman Brothers, returning 10% per year, but that money is gone now.  Putting your money in a high-yield savings account has its advantages; I find that having money that requires 2-3 days to withdraw is a good psychological barrier to wasting that money.  But if you left it there, over time you’re going to lose money.  Imagine that $5000 in a high-yield savings account was going to go to pay for groceries or gas in 5 years; would you take the bet that gas prices will only go up by 3-4% per year for the next few years?

You need savings. I just got laid off and it’s nice to have money in the bank so the next few months I don’t have to worry about paying for food or heat or the mortgage.  But my savings pattern has changed.  I used to put “saved” money in the market.  I thought of “saved” money as money well used.  Now I am trying to think of other ways to use that money – paying down the mortgage, buying durable goods, and building my alternative income wealthstreams.  It’s not time to cash your paycheck and instantly rush out and buy food, as my Russian colleagues did when I lived in Moscow in the mid-90s.  But the days of calmly stashing your money away until you need it may be over for now.  Let’s just hope it’s not over for good.

(photo by colin.brown)

are you fit to be a citizen?

My post about elitism elicited a few negative comments, but also led to an interesting side discussion about the qualifications required to vote in the US. The only qualification to vote in the US is to be a registered voter.  The exact requirements to be a registered voter may vary slightly from state to state, but the usual requirements are that you are 18 years of age on the date of the election, are a resident of the district in which you wish to vote for a set period of time before the election (30 days or so) and be a US citizen.  Those are hardly insurmountable barriers to becoming eligible to choose the man (or, someday, the woman) who will have the world’s largest nuclear arsenal at their disposal.  Should something more be required?

Should the age level to vote be raised or lowered? I don’t see the 26th Amendment being changed in the near future.  Should the residency test be changed?  Probably nobody can argue with the idea that you need to live in the district in which you vote for at least a day or two before you vote there.  Maybe the requirement could be standardized across the states, or lengthened to 60 days, but the basic requirement seems fair.

But what about being a US citizen?
I won’t go into the minute details (you can see Wikipedia’s article on the subject here) but you can become a citizen by birth (either on US soil, or to a US citizen parent) or by naturalization.  That’s oversimplified, but here is where we see a distinction – a naturalized citizen is required to study civics and pass an exam, as well as taking an oath:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

And the questions you need to answer to become a naturalized citizen? I looked at a study guide and the questions ranged from easy to difficult.  Here are a few, and in brackets my honest appraisal of whether I knew the answer:

  • How many changes or amendments are there to the Constitution? (off the top of my head, I don’t know)
  • Can you name the two senators from your state? (yes)
  • How many representatives are there in Congress? (I knew this one)
  • What is the Bill of Rights? (I know what it is – the first ten amendments – but after the second I get a bit fuzzy as to what each one of these amendments guarantees.  Quick, what’s the 7th Amendment? )
  • Can you name the 13 original states? (I could probably stumble through the east coast states and get most of them right)
  • According to the Constitution, a person must meet certain requirements in  order to be eligible to become President. Name one of these requirements.  (naming one is easy – naming all might be difficult).
  • What color are the stripes [on the flag]?(duh)
  • What do the stripes on the flag mean?  (um, red is the blood of patriots and white symbolizes truth or justice or something?)
  • How many states are there in the Union?  (50, at least until Alaska secedes)
  • What is the 4th of July?  (celebration of the defeat of the Kingdom of Great Britain. ED: I didn’t want to make it seem I was a complete idiot here – I was trying to make a joke, but it’s not a good one, as plonkee pointed out in the comments.  It’s the celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence… )

I wonder how many natural-born citizens could pass this test and therefore be eligible to vote. My suspicion is that many of us would not.  Political involvement is, of course, already somewhat subject to a threshold of interest; many citizens never bother to register and many registered voters never bother to vote, and many voters don’t vote in every election.

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use your words to change your mind

a pen

I am not a self-help or self-improvement devotee.  I’ve certainly seen The Secret and read Think and Grow Rich and The Science of Getting Rich, but I don’t attend seminars or make a constant study of creative visualization and other areas of self-improvement. I dabble.  Over time I have picked up bits and pieces, and the bits that make sense to me stay in my life, and the bits that don’t go away.  Self-improvement is focused on SELF, after all, so if a particular approach doesn’t resonate with me I don’t spend much time on it.

One of the strongest ways I’ve found to create self-improvement in my own life recently has been using words. If you have kids, you’ve probably used this phrase on a toddler once or twice:  “use your words!”  I tell Little Buddy to use his words, and I’m sure I’ll tell Pumpkin soon enough, given her cute but never-ending babbling.  Why do we tell kids to use their words?  Because it focuses the mind on the desired outcome.  When Little Buddy gestures at a box of Cheerios and grunts “UH!” he is making a vague, unfocused request.  When he says “I want Cheerios” he is focusing his attention on the desired goal.

I have spent years telling people I’m an accountant (if they don’t understand auditing) or an auditor (if they don’t understand business process improvement) or a business process improvement consultant if I want to sound like a pompous ass. I always felt a little bit sick saying it.  I knew that telling people “I am an accountant” was not embarrassing or shameful – it’s a perfectly good profession, I’m good at it and I have had a good run with it.  But for years I have not felt it represented who I was … or am.  I knew that saying that didn’t make me feel good.

I read a book to my kids called “The Daddy Book.” It was my book when I was a boy, and my parents handed it off to me.  It talks about the different kinds of daddies, what clothes they wear, what kind of hair they have, how long their sideburns are and what kind of pipes they smoke (it’s a 70s book, after all).  One of the pages says “What does your daddy do?”  and contains a lot of pictures of daddies engaged in their professions – barbers, construction workers, you name it.  I was reading it to my son one day and he asked me what I did and I whispered – because it felt so weird – “Papa’s a writer.”  As soon as I said it, I felt an enormous sense of relief.  I knew that if I said something like that and felt happier – just for saying it – it must mean something.

I have tried these words on for size a few more times with other people, and I feel better for saying it every single time. Now that I’m not working as a consultant, I guess it is true – being a writer is, for the time being, my primary source of income.  But even if it wasn’t, it is more important that “writer” is the word I associate with my work.  Maybe I won’t be a writer five years from now.  Maybe I’ll be doing something unexpected.  But the important thing is that I’m not going to let words and phrases keep my mind trapped in a rut.

The Law of Attraction, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and probably a dozen other philosophies take a similar approach. But its universality doesn’t diminish the truth of it, and it applies to almost everything.  If you’re trying to lose weight, use strong words to focus your mind on losing weight, not feeling fat.  Say “I WAS overweight but now I’m losing weight,” or “I am getting healthier day by day.”  If you’re in debt, don’t say “I’m deeply in debt.”  Say “I’m getting out of debt.”  If you’re looking for ways to make more money, tell people you’re going to find new ways to make money.  Just talking the right way alters the way you’ll perceive the world, and the way the world perceives you – which cycles back to you and back to the world in an endless loop.  Apply it to money, health, relationships, yourself.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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what motivates you more: frugality or decluttering?

I love clutter

Bubelah doesn’t care for the word “frugal.” Her opinion is that it combines the virtues of being resourceful, buying quality items to avoid replacing them, and saving on unnecessary purchases with the vices of a poverty mindset and denying yourself too much in the present for a future that may or may not occur.  I don’t have much trouble with the word, but considering I’ve just watched a large amount of the money I’ve saved over the years disappear into thin air during the recent market contortions, being frugal in order to save for the future is much less attractive than it seemed in the past.

I know all the arguments – the market always makes money over the long term, Social Security won’t be there for us and consumerism is sucking our brains out through our wallets. As someone who’s never been in debt other than a mortgage I’ve never needed to be frugal to “get back to zero.”  As I child, I lived in a frugal household (woe was me) but since I’ve been an adult the sole purpose of frugality in my life has been to set aside money for the future, with the added benefit of avoiding the purchase of things I don’t need.

Now that we have a four-person family I’ve noticed that I avoid purchasing things more and more out of a desire to declutter. I am as much of a sucker for a cute toy or book for the kids as anyone, but the toy-strewn landscape of our basement and living room are serving as great deterrents these days.  I sold dozens of books on eBay and gave hundreds more to my parents, friends and anyone who wanted them, but our bookcases are still stuffed full.  I have a lot of clothes that I seldom wear.  We have a far larger house than we absolutely NEED but as with any living space our stuff slowly creeps into every corner.

So frugality has yielded as a driving force in our lives to decluttering and some (but probably not enough) concern for the environment and how much trash we create. I’ll be honest:  I don’t clip coupons.  I probably should.  We fail in frugality in many ways – we buy organic foods even when no real evidence exists that they are better.  We have two cars when we could probably get by with one.  I took the ferry to work instead of the subway because the New York subway is…well, the New York subway.  I am comfortable in this market saving about 15%-20% of my earnings and then forgetting about the rest; we reduce spending to the point where we can contribute that level of savings and then forget about saving any more than that.

But now when I look at a big TV or a new book and think about buying it, the desire to avoid more clutter is much more of a decision factor than the desire to be frugal. Clutter keeps us from buying things we don’t need.  That works for stuff, of course, but experiences (eating out, traveling, entertainment) are another matter; but even there the “clutter” builds up in your days.  It has a temporal presence even if it doesn’t have a physical presence.

Frugality has its place. Most people need to be more frugal.  I probably still need to be more frugal.  And if you’re in debt, you definitely need to be more frugal:  you don’t need a new pair of shoes or a flat screen TV.  But for me, frugality is increasingly an afterthought to clutter, environmental concerns and the need to keep searching out wealth instead of finding new ways to squeeze out diminishing rates of return on savings.

photo credit: sindesign

getting published

If you’ve spent much time reading blogs you’ve probably come across at least a dozen bloggers who are self-publishing books, or creating e-books, or selling online courses, or even getting published in “old” media. I’ve seen a lot of all of these recently.  I understand the desire to get published, whatever the media – it’s a validation of your writing ability and hopefully it has some financial benefit for you and whatever benefit you intended for your readers.   Fame is probably not a huge factor.  The number of book authors who break into public awareness is small, and growing smaller as the Internet and TV keep winning the battle over reading books (and magazines and papers) for “infotainment” – but at the same time I’m sure a minor book author is going to be far better known than a wildly successful e-book publisher.

I wonder whether getting published in traditional media (i.e. authoring a real book, with the low-tech ink and paper technique) is all that it’s cracked up to be. I suppose I’d be as thrilled as anyone to see my book in the store, but when I see some of the authors who have been published talk about the financial rewards, what I hear is this:  you put in an extraordinary amount of effort to create a product, get an advance, then hope that the publishing company promotes your book well.  Getting published a second time may rely more on their efforts than on the quality of your work.

Conversely, an e-book can be done at the drop of the hat and promoted as much or as little as the author wishes. The e-book is more or less pure profit, assuming you don’t hire a professional to design the layout or set up an affiliate scheme to promote it.  I think the e-book “brand” has been degraded in the blog world a bit; many bloggers seem to simply bundle up 20 of their best posts and call it a book.  Then again, why not?  A traditional print author like Hunter S. Thompson, whom I admired, often would bundle up a bunch of magazine pieces and call it a book.  Big deal, right? I have been disappointed in several e-books I’ve seen, and yet impressed by others. Regardless of quality, I’m willing to bet that only a tiny portion of web readers have ever done more than glance at an e-book, and most of the world has yet to ever see one.

The main motivation for getting in print – in the traditional way – is probably the family reunion factor.  Aunt Sally, who’s always talking about how HER son already finished MED SCHOOL is not going to be impressed that you wrote an e-book … but she’ll probably shut up when she hears you have a book she has to see every time she passes it at the local Barnes and Noble. It’s not bad to want to be recognized as excelling in a certain field.  I’m not sure when e-books will equal (let alone surpass) traditional books in this sense.  Maybe when 10% of Americans have Kindle-like devices?  20%?  I don’t really know.

Let’s hope that both e-books and traditional books keep coming, though. I like to read – a lot – and although blogs and various websites can be entertaining it’s a far different experience from reading a book, or even a well-written e-book. I’m sure I’ll give writing a book a shot at some point… if for no other reason than to keep Aunt Sally off my back next year.

How Much Do You Want To Save Money This Holiday Season?

Today’s post is a guest post by Ann Smarty, an SEO blogger and Internet entrepreneur.

Parliament Buildings, Ottawa
Both economic crisis and approaching holiday season mean huge spending that can make your blood run cold . Check out these three quick (but essential) tips on how to save money this holiday season:

Save money on holiday shopping:

Start shopping earlier before the prices rise due to the high demand. Both holiday planning and shopping should be done beforehand. It is recommended to start shopping for holidays right after “Back to School” season. Make a list of products you will need and friends you will give presents to and consider what you can buy in advance.

Find hottest deals online. What’s the most enticing offer on any holiday season? That’s right! With today’s gas prices, shipping is what you would probably want to save on. will help you find retailers offering to ship your purchase for free. You can locate a free shipping offer (along with the conditions for you to qualify) by category or by brand name. Furthermore, you can also spot newest as well as soon-to-expire coupons and subscribe to their newsletter to get updated of new holiday offers.

Save money by going green:

Today each huge company offers free tips on saving money by going green. Google, for example, created an online calculator estimating how much you save on energy by following their tips. The tool is fun to use and really comes in handy during the winter holiday season when days are shorter, energy prices go up and your budget is suffering.

Save money by using your imagination:

Do you know you don’t need to actually buy presents? You can make the gifts with your own hands! Check to get plenty of ideas you can do yourself to make your friends and relatives happy. Besides, saving money you have good chances to make your presents unforgettable by creating unique and original things.

Technorati Tags: holiday shopping, gifts, money

photo credit: Joel Bedford

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