Category Archives: life

faulkner grave

lacrosse and Russian

 

faulkner grave

 

I didn’t get that much out of college, other than friends, knowledge, life experiences, and the ability to blow up an opponent in lacrosse.  I majored in math, and now I’m a finance and systems consultant.  Related, fine.  But they are two different disciplines.  I studied linguistics, and while I’m able to speak several languages, I don’t really pay much attention to language, per se.  I minored in Russian, though, and that deeply, thoroughly, and massively affected my life – the choices I made, the places I lived, even all the way through to my spouse and (eventually) my kids.  So don’t assume college doesn’t matter… it just doesn’t matter the way you think it will.  I thought I would be a famous mathematician based on my time in college.  Nope.  But little did I suspect I’d become a Russophile and become “russkiy v sertsye” – Russian at heart.

From Good Financial Moves for College, Part 2:

But that’s not the biggest part of it. Without developing my Russian skills I wouldn’t have met, pursued and married my wife. Maybe if I had taken Japanese I would have lived in Japan, developed a fondness for all things Japanese. Hard to say. But I do know that the decision to learn Russian set in motion the life process that brought me to where I am today.

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Bridgman Pottery

happy cat

How coaching can help you out of a rut in your corporate career

happy cat

 

It’s amazing what a little time off can do for your attitude towards work. It’s why so many of us love to jet abroad for a week-long getaway each year: we come back feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready to tackle the weeks ahead. But if you don’t have a holiday planned in the imminent future, and would like to get that same energized enthusiasm for your career, there are other ways to do so. Coaching is an increasingly popular way to achieve this.
Although there are often negative connotations associated with the word ‘therapy,’ the two are not all that dissimilar. A good coach can listen neutrally to you, help assess your current situation and make positive changes in your life.

For those who feel like they are in a career lull, bored of the same everyday routine, a new challenge could be what awaits you – and don’t worry, even those with the most fulfilling careers can feel like this occasionally.

Here are 3 key areas that coaching can help you with, whilst helping you get out of that rut and enjoy working again:

1. Helps to build confidence.
If you have been in one position or industry for a long time, the thought of leaving that familiarity can be very daunting. Sometimes it can feel more secure to stay in your accustomed bubble. But, more often than not, all you need is a confidence boost to make the changes that you want in your career.  A coach can offer the encouragement required to believe in yourself- whether this is through interview techniques for a new position or the courage to speak with your superior and re-negotiate your current contract.

2. Become objective about yourself.
A coach can offer objectivity. It’s difficult to accurately review ourselves. Similarly, when a partner, friend or family member offers advice or an opinion, it is often biased in the hope of being supportive. But, to break old habits you will need tough love. Acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses can give you a new sense of direction, and an outsider is the best way to achieve this.
Not only can this new awareness help you differentiate between your desire for a new routine or a new lifestyle altogether, but it can mean you have the opportunity to make effective alterations to inject more happiness into your daily humdrum activities. We spend the majority of our days in the workplace so you may as well make the most of it.

3. Set achievable goals.
Experience with business clients gives coaches the knowledge to know what goals are feasible within a set time frame. Aiming to ‘turn your life around’ in a fortnight is not only unrealistic, but can leave you feeling deflated when it doesn’t happen – despite being impracticable in the first place.  Emotions can often overwhelm us and trigger impulsive decision but having an objective person for support can ensure that you don’t throw in the towel without a proper plan.

When you’re in a rut in your career, it’s always a good idea to evaluate your current situation, look at where you want to be, and what you’re capable of. Then it’s just about receiving the push to get it done. This is what coaching is ideal for. The renowned philosopher Albert Schweitzer famously said: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Finding what you love is half the battle. Learning how to implement it is the other. In this sense, life coaching may not be imperative for your career, but just like a sunny day, although it might not always be needed, it sure makes a different when it’s there.

Bev James is the managing director of The Coaching Academy who trains and mentors life coaches across the UK. Bev enjoys her life as a successful serial entrepreneur, coach, and business mentor.”

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Ari Helminen

society and the individual

Will code for food

All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.

- Albert Einstein

I love pop culture, as long as it is MY pop culture. I love Star Trek, Star Wars, the Matrix and the Lord of the Rings and don’t care much for American Idol.  Loving one and not caring for the other won’t make me much better or worse as a person; there is nothing in Star Trek that makes the fans of that show “better” than the fans of American Idol.  Yet I feel that there is some value from the one show not possible from the other.  I feel that liking one over the other makes me more of an individual.

There are many opportunities for the individual to disappear in a society. In a totalitarian society, the disappearance of individual is a survival instinct.  In a command economy, it’s the easiest action.  In a capitalist society, it’s not the way to wealth but it may serve as the avoidance of poverty.

If you stop and think about the ways in which you can live a “life fully lived”, either through commerce or service or self-improvement, the individual is key. I imagine Donald Trump gets the same sense of satisfaction through commerce as a community organizer does through service to others, although I can’t be sure.  But the opportunity for development accorded to the individual makes or breaks a society.

Do you want your neighbors to succeed? Your city?  Your state?  Your country?  Your world?  At each point you’re concentrating less on your own self-development and more on a larger ideal.  As a family man, I concentrate less on my own self-development (reading, contemplation, exercise, etc.) and more on my family’s development.  I think others expand this to concentrate more upon their neighbors’ development, and so on.  It’s not a bad thing, but I think every time you set aside your own self development for society’s, you eventually will suffer.

Boil it down to real life? Killing yourself to guarantee your children’s college education?  Paying exorbitant taxes to support a dying city?  Working to support a corporation?  Destroying your own health to support a family?  All are self-defeating in the long view.  Each will eventually undermine the initial reasoning; working long hours and wrecking your health to support your family will fail to pay off when you die young, for example.

Most people can’t make that difficult choice to concentrate on their own self-development. I’ll be honest:  I can’t. It’s hard to say that you need to work on your own happiness or health or prosperity now to ensure your family (or friends’, or community’s, or whatever) betterment tomorrow.  Sacrifice is tough in the short term.  America hasn’t demonstrated much stomach for that in the last decade or two, and we’ll pay the price in the next couple of decades.  But if you want to help others often the best way is to learn to help yourself first.

photo credit: pvera

intolerable cruelty

the intolerable cruelty of spoons

intolerable cruelty

If you have never seen the movie “Intolerable Cruelty” by the Cohen Brothers and starring George Clooney (heard of him?) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (heard of her? the T-Mobile lady?), you are missing some exceptionally clever dialogue (but before you rush out and rent it, I’ll warn you that it is has a  dull and conventional ending).  There is an exchange between the massively successful lawyer played by Clooney and his right-hand man as they discuss a wedding gift for a client of theirs:

Wrigley: What do you think?
Massey (Clooney): What are they, ladles?
Wrigley: Berry spoons.
Massey: Spoons?
Wrigley: Berry spoons.  Everybody has spoons.
Massey: And nobody needs berry spoons.
Wrigley: Everybody eats berries.
Massey: Who are you, Pollyanna? Where’d you see ‘em at? A Martha Stewart catalog right next to the silver napkin rings? Stadium seat ass-warmers?

Ouch.

I look with some real regret at some of the specialty cooking items I’ve bought over the years.  If you are talking about a place in your house to review for frugality, most American kitchens would be a good place to start.  Some useless items I own (or now “owned”) and some alternatives:

  • A mortar and pestle versus a spoon and a bowl
  • White wine glasses, red wine glasses, port glasses, margarita glasses, martini glasses, shot glasses versus 8 ounce tumblers.
  • Dip serving bowls in fancy designs versus plain bowls.
  • Three different can openers versus one can opener.
  • An olive spoon versus a regular spoon plus a colander.
  • Eighteen different pots and pans versus one expensive pan, one large pot and one small pot.
  • Three sets of salt and pepper shakers versus one set.

Bubelah would be quick to tell you that most of these were pre-marriage wastes of money and she would be right.  I loved to buy specialty drinking gear, for example – coffee cups for coffee, taller glasses for champagne or white wine, fuller glasses for reds (must let them breathe!) and martini glasses because you don’t see James Bond sipping from a tumbler.  I also went through a gourmet cooking phase when I had to buy idiotic accessories like mortars and pestles – used approximately four times in five years.  I might argue it was simply a hobby with expensive tools, but I know the truth – it was a waste.

All of this clutter contributes to a bad sense of organization in the kitchen, a waste of money and I think ultimately drives a nagging desire to get a bigger kitchen (and a bigger house). One of the moments that stopped me wanting any more gadgets in the kitchen was the movie “Out of Africa” with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.  Again, great things in the movie but ultimately a bit of a disappointment.  However:  in one scene out in the savannah or veldt or whatever it’s called Redford drinks his morning coffee out of a tin cup.  He drinks water out of the cup throughout the day.  Later that same day, he rinses it out and uses it to drink wine in the evening.  Same cup.  I thought that was an excellent way to think about kitchen gadgets, or any other gadgets.  We could probably buy about 8 tin coffee cups (in case we have guests) and ditch all of our other glasses.

Of course, you want some beauty in your life and you do not want to have a pleasant meal on tin plates and cups.  If you were seriously frugal, maybe, but then again we could put up paper blinds instead of curtains and use old newspaper for toilet paper, too.  There is a limit, and there is a happy medium.  But the idea of a tin cup has reminded me each time I flinch walking by a clever no-stick spatula at Williams Sonoma that I already have a spatula made of plastic that will survive in a landfill for 10,000 years after I am gone.  And I do not need another berry spoon.

 

the whole life sabbatical (part 3 of 3)


Creative Commons License photo credit: mistress_f

In part 1 of this three-part series I talked about walking away from various responsibilities in your life. In part 2 I talked about whether it would be easy to leave them. Now I’m going to bring it together with my thoughts on “walking away from it all.”Would it make you happier? In each area, it really depends on how happy you are now. Simply dropping a responsibility doesn’t make you happier. It can, however, free up enough time to allow you to pursue other activities that DO make you happy. I will argue this – almost no personal growth is possible without giving up something; without walking away from something else.

Work: For most people, this is the big one. I have a picture of a “workless” life and a picture of a “better work” life. I think most people say “oh, I couldn’t be happy without regular work, something to do, yada yada.” That’s not the case with me – I really get a lot of enjoyment out of learning and engaging in the regular business of day to day life. I’m not sure I need an avocation, per se. But I realize nobody is going to pay me to play with my kids all day every day, so I imagine “walking away from my work” ending up as walking into another job. I’d just like the hours to be flexible and more or less self-directed. But I do recognize this point: nobody will get a dream job, a dream career, the flexibility they’ve always desired without walking away from the one they have now. In order to achieve fulfillment in your work/career, you must be prepared to walk away from everything you have now.

Family: In the example I mentioned (should you take an infirm elderly relative into your home or support them by placing them in an elder care facility), it’s a tough choice people make all the time. My family has done so. You can’t ever abandon your family, but you do have to be able to let go and move on to develop other relationships. I see less of my brother than I did when I was younger and we lived together. I see less of my parents than I did when I lived at home. I even spend less time with my wife once we had a son, and now that we have a daughter, also, I have to spend less time with him. But each time when you take a little time away from someone, it doesn’t mean – or at least it doesn’t HAVE to mean – that you lose any of the strength of that relationship. In some ways it makes time you spend with those people even more intense, if you value them. By giving up time with one person you can grow your relationship with another – and it’s not a zero-sum game. I don’t love my brother or parents or wife or son any less as more people have been added to my family – if anything, it makes me appreciate everyone even more.

Finances: Walking away from your financial responsibilities is one of the best things you can do for yourself – unless you enjoy having a financial responsibility to your digital cable. Each time I’ve jettisoned a financial commitment it has not felt like a sacrifice – it’s felt like freedom. I have a long way to go, and some responsibilities are better than others: I don’t mind my mortgage because it allows me to keep my investments liquid and enjoy a pleasant home. But completing the lease on my car and buying the next one for cash, and ending that once-a-month reminder of money floating away was a source of huge satisfaction. Sometimes I think happiness can be defined more easily – on a financial basis – as the lack of things, rather than the possession of things. I will be wealthy, but I want that wealth to be expressed in a house and financial freedom and security for my family and travel and experiences, rather than in Wii’s.

Life: And finally, life. Can you walk away from your health? No. Can you walk away from other parts of your life? Yes: you can walk away from everything about your life that’s negative. How many people do you know who cling to failed relationships, or bad habits, or make themselves sick by living in unhealthy environments? Life is the one area you have to learn to walk away from. Don’t accept the idea that you have to have some misery in your life. Don’t accept “no pain, no gain.” There is gain without pain.

So what was I getting at with these posts? Too often I read about, and think about what I need to GET or ACQUIRE to achieve goals. Too often people think I NEED that to be happy, or I have an OBLIGATION to stay in this situation. Try not to think of life as a series of things you HAVE to do. These are not powerful words. Try to think of life as a series of experiences you WANT.

Identify what’s not working for you, and walk away from it – what are you waiting for, your next life?

the whole life sabbatical (part 2 of 3)


Creative Commons License photo credit: ribena_wrath

In part 1 of this three-part series I talked about walking away from various responsibilities in your life. How easy would it be to leave them?

Work: If you stop to think about it, you have almost nothing stopping you from quitting your work. If you own a business, you can sell it. If you are an employee, trust me – if you quit you will be a distant dusty memory to your former coworkers in a week. If you are a freelancer, refer your clients to your freelancing network. I am sometimes stunned in a corporate environment by the loyalty and responsibility people imagine they must demonstrate before quitting, when the same company might lay that person off and tell them to clear their desk in 15 minutes. I don’t advocate just walking out, but if you stopped your job today, the world would continue. You would find new work tomorrow.

Family: You have to take care of your children and parents. But consider this: you have a responsibility to provide your children with food, shelter, education, love, trust and hope for the future. Do you have a responsibility to provide them with a Wii? An iPhone? An Ivy League education? A home? There is a line there that everyone must draw for himself, and I’ve seen it done in both extremes: parents who sacrifice everything for their children or brothers who care for unmarried sisters or children who go to great extremes for their in-laws…as well as people who walk away from even the responsibility to put food on the table. With family, your responsibilities are easy to walk away from, but for many of them you cannot walk away and look at yourself in a mirror. However, you can say to yourself “I have no obligation to buy my child a car.” It will not destroy your family.

Finances: You can walk away from your financial responsibilities to the extent that you’re prepared to lose things. The biggest obligation you have is taxes. Fail to pay those and you’ll go to jail. But if you make less and less money, eventually your obligation to pay taxes will drop away. Other obligations, at the end of the day, are optional, although some are easier to downgrade than eliminate completely. If you have a huge mortgage, you could sell the house and live on the streets (extreme) or live in a smaller house with a smaller mortgage (less extreme) or rent. If you spend $300 per month on entertainment, you can eliminate it completely – but at some point even “free” entertainment costs money (you need shoes to walk in the park, for example). You can’t walk away from finances as easily as you might think. You can walk away from some of them, but leaving them all behind is almost impossible.

Life: Obviously, you can let a LOT go in this area. You can start eating crap, quit exercising, and in various ways neglect your life. It might be a nice change for a while, but there will be consequences down the road. I often wonder how far you could push this “life sabbatical,” though. Could I get by on raw vegetables, fruits, bread, cheese, tea and water for food (i.e. forget about cooking)? Could I exercise by just walking or biking everywhere (i.e. selling my car)? Could the lack of stress be the biggest health improvement I could make?

In part 3 I’ll look at whether you should walk away from your life and take a “sabbatical”.

the whole life sabbatical (part 1 of 3)


Creative Commons License photo credit: urbanshoregirl

Have you ever just wanted to chuck it all and walk away? To just walk away from your commitments and responsibilities and start over again somewhere else? Why didn’t you?

I started thinking about the practicalities of walking away from my entire life of responsibilities after learning an acquaintance had done it. I divided my responsibilities up in a few different groups: work, family, finances and life. Each one has different implications in terms of walking away, and before anyone thinks I’m about to start discussing walking away from your family or your finances – don’t worry! I have a different mindset, and hopefully it will become clear what I’m getting at in parts 2 and 3.

First of all, what ARE your responsibilities?

Work: Chances are good that you work for a living. Maybe you are an employee, or a freelancer, or a small business owner. Your responsibilities for each of these types of work are similar but not the same. If you are an employee, you work at a business. Maybe you serve customers, or work in a group, but for the most part you have nobody who relies on you for their livelihood; the company pays their paycheck, not you. If you are a freelancer, nobody depends on you for their livelihood but customers may rely on you, particularly if you function almost as a “part-time” employee for their business. The most responsible position of these three would be a small business owner. If you have employees, you have people who depend on you.

Family: If you have a spouse, or elderly parents or children or any close family you support (or help support) you have a tremendous responsibility to them. You may share that responsibility (for example, if you are married and have kids you and your spouse both provide overlapping types of support) but in many cases this dependency is total and desperate (think elderly parents or newborn children). How easily could you walk away from family (or even close friends who are like familiy)? People do it all the time. Divorce and abandonment are extremes. I’m thinking more of cases like this: do you bring your aging parent who requires almost-around-the-clock care to live with you if you are able? Or do you send them to an assisted living/nursing home facility? It sounds cruel, but should you neglect your other family to care for someone who probably needs better care than you can provide? It’s a difficult question.

Finances: You have commitments to be paid – rent, mortgages, taxes, utilities and so on. Some are less critical than others. Your cable TV is a fairly mild commitment you could end without much worry. Your electricity? Less so. Your taxes? I wouldn’t advise it – we can’t all be Wesley Snipes. This area is fairly clear cut morally, although there are gray areas – would you walk away from a mortgage if your home plummeted in value, in order to get a fresh start? I would, but some people think this is irresponsible.

Life: You have responsibilities to things in your own life that cannot be pushed aside. Food must be eaten, health must be maintained and medical care is sometimes necessary. You can switch from caviar to tuna fish, but you can’t stop eating. You can decide to stop taking multivitamins, but if you suffer from diabetes you’ll still need insulin. You may even have responsibilities to your friends, your neighborhood and your church/temple/mosque/etc., but these could vary so much it’s hard to make an overarching simplification, and I wonder if those are truly responsibilities. I suppose if you are a community-centric person they might be. I will argue that you have almost no other responsibilities. Do I have a responsibility as a citizen for certain things? I guess so. Voting, jury duty, paying taxes and so on are all “national” responsibilities, but let’s face it – you can walk away awfully easily from most of those. Whether you should is another question.

So did I miss anything? And don’t tell me it’s impossible to walk away from any of these commitments, because you can, without a doubt. These are the major areas of obligation in most of our lives, other than a sense of civic duty. In the next two parts I’ll talk about (1) whether you could walk away and (2) if walking away would make you happy.  We all say we want freedom – but do we?

fireworks

6 Ways to Salvage your New Years Resolutions

fireworks

We’re less than a full month into the new year. Did you make any resolutions? If so, how’re they doing?

If you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolution, don’t be too hard on yourself. It turns out that the odds were stacked against you. A study in 2007 by Richard Wisemen from the University of Bristol showed that 88% of people who make New Year resolutions fail to keep them.

Those are pretty dismal numbers when you consider it. A lot of people break their resolutions and feel depressed. But as the Japanese proverb says “Fall 7 times, stand up 8″. So, how can you salvage your new year’s resolutions?

  1. Remember why you made the resolution: It came from somewhere. So take a moment and try to reconnect with the original impulse. Life distracts us, so try to focus past the distractions and find what you had desired.
  2. Discard the resolutions that don’t come from you: Too often we resolve to do the things we think we should do, rather than the things we want to do. When you have no personal attachment to your resolutions, it’s a lot easier to break them.
  3. Reschedule your New Year: January is actually a bad time to start many resolutions. If we take weight loss as our example: gyms are more crowded than ever before, and the weather isn’t always friendly towards going outside and exercising. If any of these things are impacting your resolutions, why not wait until the spring? Good resolutions are a challenge, but there’s no reason that you shouldn’t stack the odds in your favor.
  4. Redefine your resolution: Try taking your goal and breaking it into smaller increments. For example, if you want to lose 36 pounds in the year, instead set yourself a more achievable goal of 3 pounds per month. This gives you a number of smaller goals that you can achieve and celebrate, helping you build momentum and retain your focus, even as you move towards achieving your larger overall resolution.
  5. Make use of your support network: We live in a world more connected than ever before. This means that supportive friends are as close as the smart phone in your pocket or the nearest computer. By sharing your resolutions with your support network, you gain people to help you when you’re struggling and who can celebrate with you while you succeed.
  6. If at first you don’t succeed…: We get too focused on failure. If you could change your behaviour without any problems then you wouldn’t need to make resolutions in the first place. If we learn from our mistakes, then we give ourselves a far better toolkit for long-term success than we would if we had succeeded without any problems or challenges.

Guest post by Alex Conde of Searching for Happy, a blog about the simple search for happiness we all face. His series of Happiness Experiments study some of the popular theories on finding happiness.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by Koshyk

the itch that never ends


Imagine your wrist is itching right now. It’s the kind of itch that just has to be scratched – it doesn’t matter what you are doing, because the urge to scratch rises up and blocks your ability to concentrate on almost anything else. I am sure you know this feeling – the sudden intensity of the itch narrows your vision to a tunnel. You stop, you scratch, you resume whatever it was you were doing.

Now imagine that keeps happening.
Again and again. You itch at random all over. Your nose itches, you stop and scratch and take ten steps before your knee itches. The aggravation becomes unbearable – every few minutes another urge to scratch, another pulsating itch.

But after a while, a funny thing happens – you are so consumed with scratching and itching that you realize that you can ignore some of the milder itches.
Your mind blocks them out, because otherwise you’re just in a haze, waiting for the next tickle on your shoulder or your ear. You realize, hey, I can block these itches out.

Before long, you are blocking out more and more of these urges to itch.
After a while, you can ignore almost all of them. Your mind learns how to block bigger and bigger urges, until only the most pressing itches needs scratching. One day, you realize that although you still itch all over, you don’t need to scratch anymore. You have conquered the urge and no longer have a knee-jerk reaction when it strikes.

This is more or less the way you need to approach spending if you’re in debt, or eating if you’re trying to lose weight, or getting over a bad habit of any kind. It may seem like an oversimplification but that’s what it is. Your mind is an amazing tool (but also a dangerous one) but you are its master.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Sugar Pond