A look back at 2014

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look-back-and-smile-on-perils-past-quote-1I received a holiday card from one of my grad school classmates and so when I saw her online yesterday, I chatted her a quick thank you. We hadn’t talked in some time so she asked me what was new. I started by saying that the last half of last year was pretty eventful. In that period, I got laid off, found a new job and moved to a new city. I told her that in that vein, I felt like I hadn’t gotten really all that much done, because a lot of my time was spent in attention-intensive activity (looking for a job, moving, getting settled) rather than living in an organized way. Her feedback was, whoa, yes a lot had happened for me and that hindsight is 20/20, I guess meaning that it’s easy to look back and think more could have been done when in the moment you were just acting to survive.

This post is an honest look back on my last year. Things that I did well. Things that I didn’t. Accomplishments, failures and everything in between.

My “theme” for this year was simplicity. Facing a move after my rent was increased by 30% (welcome to the SF Bay area!), I knew that I was bogged down by a lot of stuff. So I aimed to throw out the unneeded and trim down anything in my life that didn’t need to be there.

My first goal was to see if I could exist as a cord-cutter. I found that I was spending a lot of time not even watching television but rather zoning out with the television on. Living alone, the expense was… well, expensive. So when I moved for the first time this year, I got rid of my cable (using Netflix instead) and I have to be honest: I have never been happier. I took my in-home entertainment cost down from something like $40-60 to $8 and I realized it wasn’t something that I really needed in my life.

In addition to living a simpler life, I aspired to live a more engaged life. Getting rid of cable was one part. I wanted to also read more as I feel like being exposed to new ideas would be good for me. I set out as my year’s goal to read 20 books. At this point in time, I have finished 27 books and am on the last 40 pages of the 28th book. I feel really proud and I am happy to have reignited my love for reading. I would publish all 28 books that I read this year but I kept records in a ledger that I have at my apartment. So I will share that in a bit, either as an addendum to this post or as a separate post.

After I was laid off and had to move to the city of my new job, I decided that I needed to once and for all have a garage sale and see if any of the stuff I was holding onto was actually sellable. I had a garage sale before moving out of my apartment and made about $90, which I think is pretty good. Apart from the money, it was finally doing that thing that I told myself I would always do. Anything that I couldn’t sell I gave to Goodwill. I also just shipped off a large package of clothing to ThredUp, again with the goal of just seeing if I could make any money in the process of getting rid of it.

I don’t know if this fits in with the concept of simplify, but I also lost some friendships in this calendar year, one of which was the girlfriend of the abuser (the excoworker who was “anonymously” posting vile messages in the comments section of this blog) as well as some others. I talk to friends about friendships a lot and we all agree that they change and that they disintegrate if they are no longer based on substance, integrity, truth. And at the core of it, as my friend said many years ago when I was mulling over a then-failing college friendship, “Friends should make you happy.” That’s it. That’s the golden ticket. I don’t think deciding to separate from people is any statement of the other person being bad. I think it’s just the honest confirmation, perhaps to just yourself, that being around that person doesn’t make you happy. It doesn’t make you a better person. It in fact detracts from your sense of satisfaction and is therefore something to minimize. I think, in a nutshell, it’s the idea, “You’re great, but I just need something different.”

Professionally, this year was a mixed bag. I was laid off in July from a job that I realized that I was only staying in 1) for the solid paycheck and 2) for the easy lifestyle. Oh and also the coworkers, because I really did enjoy getting to know a lot of those people. Looking back with the clarify of hindsight, I realized that the leader of my team never liked me and that I should have expedited my efforts to leave on my terms. I am now in a better place where my contributions are appreciated and where my manager thinks highly of the work that I do. (The person who referred me in to the job says that my manager thanks her every time she sees her for referring me in to the role– which I didn’t know and yes, that’s kind of another humblebrag but it made me feel that I’m a much worthier employee than the leader of my team at my prior job ever made me feel.)

I think the one thing I didn’t do a lot of last year was date or really grow my personal network. It hit me harder this year– probably because a lot of my cohorts are getting married (though admittedly a handful are also now getting divorced) and/or having kids. This is something, now that I’m more settled, that I know that I have to focus on next year.

So that is my honest and true assessment of this year. I did a lot. There was a lot of change. But now as I enter 2015, I am going to shift my focus and set out a new set of life goals– which I will address in a future post. But for now, I hope everyone had a great year and if not, there’s a whole new one just around the bend chockfull of opportunity to do what hasn’t yet been done.

Naughty or nice?

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naughtyorniceI hope everybody had a good Christmas. I am at my parents’ house watching them be older and more ornery. It’s fun times.

For today’s post, I am drawing upon two things: a book that I recently finished as well as a comment from a colleague about a week ago. I just finished “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” by Piper Kerman. It’s the book upon which the Netflix series is based; however, the book is much more pensive and thoughtful where the Netflix series is snarky and full of drama.

Nearing the end of the book, Kerman mentions that being in prison, where by definition society is telling you that you are bad, she surprisingly was reminded that she was still a good person. I can’t remember the passage and to be honest, I might be misunderstanding it. But in prison, she was the anomaly: the white, elite college-educated prisoner surrounded by women of lesser economic and personal circumstances. The others prisoners frequently reached out to her for help and looked up to her as a leader of sorts. And being from a privileged background, she was constantly reminded of how lucky she was and how much worse other people had it in their lives. After her year in prison, she would leave and return to a loving fiance and a comfortable life. Others, she knew, returned to the outside world still undereducated and lacking the financial resources to be able to avoid the poor decisions that put them in prison in the first place. She remarks about the irony about being in the worst place to get confirmation, sometimes from surprising sources, that in fact she was a good person.

The second thing that I am reflecting on is a comment from a coworker. She and I had previously worked together and she was really kind in referring me to my current employer. Throughout the interview process, I kept in touch with her and one thing that I kept telling her was that I was less concerned about getting the job and fucking up and it reflecting poorly on me. I was more concerned about getting the job and fucking up and it reflecting poorly on her. It’s always a risk when you refer a person to a job, particularly to a place where you work, and I just didn’t want to let her down.

We went out for drinks with some of her friends, which I think is always an interesting transition. It’s one thing to go out with coworkers but it’s another thing when worlds start melding and you’re invited to view a different aspect of a colleague’s life.  Admittedly, a lot of drinking was done. But during drinks, she told her friends that I was the best– so smart and funny and snarky and great. Ok, yes, so this part of the post is a little bit of a humblebrag. But it was weird to hear a person speak so positively of me because, I dunno, I figure people go through life, I know that I go through life, just doing whatever. And you hope that you are well received. Sometimes you are and sometimes you aren’t. And really, without feedback, you kind of just hope for the best and hope that you aren’t being/people don’t think you are an ass. I am a really blunt and honest person. I’m also really snarky. And I figure it earns me some enemies and I try to be more balanced about it. So it was weird to hear that someone saw this not as a flaw but a positive trait.

The two of these together make me think about the concept of expectations– specifically the expectations of others, whether explicitly stated or unspoken. It makes me think about your perception of your social contract with life, with others, with society. It makes me think about the intersection of what you could do, what you should do and ultimately what you do do.

I think in the grand spectrum of being naughty or nice, I am nice (though probably not on the extreme of nice. Very honestly, probably in the middle edging nice). I think that I like people. I think that I aim to do the right thing. I think that I am generally generous.

But I think this year has been a trying time with a lot of change in my life, some of it bad. And so I think aspiration aside, I have had naughty moments. I have encountered people that I did not think well of. The “partiers” at my last job come to mind– people who were self-centered and selfish and whose behavior only detracted from the happiness of others. Being cyberbullied from one of my ex-colleagues was another low point– having a person who I had disengaged with over a year ago follow me online and make disparaging comments to me. Being laid off from my last job under what were supposed to be financial issues but what I now suspect were other reasons is another. It was a tough year and I have had some really low points.

There is a saying, I can’t remember the source, that says that what matters in life is not what happens to you but rather how you react to it. So the naughtiness is not that shitty things have happened in my life or that I’ve encountered shitty people. The naughtiness on my part is how I have reacted to it– at times not with grace or generosity. It sucks when shit happens and it’s so very very hard not to lash out when it does.

But as a civilized adult, I know that I have to. But more so, knowing that others hold me in high regard, that people think I’m a good person, means that I have to try harder to do the right thing, even when the situation is tough. I am going to actively think about this and honestly try. I know that I will fail at times. But I think that it is something worth thinking about and aspiring to.

Stubbornly optimistic

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IMG_0876I went to the de Young museum today to check out the Keith Haring exhibit. Haring was an artist in the 1980s best known for his pictures of human forms, in primary colors, kneeling and dancing. He was Andy Warhol’s friend and protege. He died of AIDS at the age of 32.

While watching a documentary on Haring at the exhibit, I heard a phrase that I thought was particularly wonderful: “stubbornly optimistic.” I forget the actual context from within the documentary; however, it was a descriptor assigned to Haring.

The year is coming to a close and I had a couple of conversations in the recent past that I am now reflecting on in the context of this new phrase. I went to a grad school holiday party on Thursday where I met with a career coach who had been helping me when I was unemployed after my first b-school job. In total, I was unemployed for about 9 months and when I engaged with her, I was near about desperate. She recalled that I had told her that I wondered sometimes how and if this long spell of unemployment would end. I told her what I had been up to since we last saw one another– that I started working at my last employer and was so excited but that I was then laid off about a year and a half later and felt fairly negative about some of the circumstances of that job. She said regardless that I seemed to be in a better place and that that hopefully was the lowest of my life’s lows. I was really in the doldrums.

Then yesterday, admittedly a little bit feeling not great after a night of carousing, I was chatting with a college friend. I told her that I was a little bit in the dumps in a few areas of my life– namely that I felt like I needed to grow my network in SF and that I needed to date more. She chastised me and said that since she’s known me, I’ve never really seemed happy with life, that there is always something that I am seeing beyond the present that I want and that prevents me from right now being totally satisfied. She said that I hadn’t been happy at my last job and that I wasn’t happy when I was unemployed (both true) and that this year was a hallmark year for me– that I got a new job, got to move to SF and can now embark on a whole host of new adventures!

And you know what: she’s right. Actually both of them were right. I have had moments where I really hit some majors lows (both points of unemployment come immediately to mind) and it’s easy to forget that compared to those low points, I’m in such a better place right now. It’s not the best place ever and things can definitely get better, but all in all, it’s a solid high point and I should celebrate that.

I’m not going to say that I’m a total Debbie Downer, but I do think that my friend is right in saying that I’m a glass is half empty kind of person. I think I accept it in the sense of being a maximizer (versus a satisficers)– the type of person who wants more, better, the best and not the type of person who aims low and is happy with what they have. In truth, I would much rather be a satisficer. That would actually be awesome. It’s exhausting always feeling like there should be a new, bigger and better thing. The constant striving is endless and exhausting. But I think she’s right that I’m constantly eyeing something else on the horizon rather than being content and that this is something I need to be aware of and actively monitor.

I do think that there are some things that are tough-ish and that I want to make better in my life. And while I do think I need to embrace the moments where I can share frustrations with others (if even for momentary succor), I also need to be stubbornly optimistic and work to make those unshiny parts of life more shiny. So here’s to hoping the holiday break will be rejuvenating and that 2015 will bring with it opportunities to continue on my upward trajectory.

Inclusive vs. exclusive

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Screenshot 2014-12-14 at 9.58.23 PMI had brunch today with a bunch of the OGs of my former employer– OGs standing for “old girls” or “original girls.” I am admittedly not really one of the OGs (I was probably one of the newer additions to the company of this cycle of employees– some who had left right before I joined) but I was happy to be included and it was a good time.

It got me to thinking a lot about general concepts involving inclusion and exclusion as it relates to relationships in adulthood. As children, we’re told not to leave people out and that everyone should be invited to play. The most important line in the movie Lilo & Stitch is, “Ohana means family. And family means that nobody is left behind or forgotten.” I always think this is a really important thing to remember in life.

I was also thinking about this in the context of the crew of “partiers” at my last company, including the abuser who cyberbullied me a couple of months ago. Included in this group is the woman that I lambasted in a post out of a personal desire for some closure. I kind of feel bad about putting the thoughts in print, though I don’t feel bad for hating this woman (I still think she’s one of the most odious people I have ever met in my life). But admittedly, it’s maybe something I shouldn’t have written.

One of the things that I grew to really resent about being in the presence of the abuser and the rest of the group was the sense of exclusiveness that they felt was necessary in how they socialized in life. At times, one member would organize events like potlucks or BBQs, which was admittedly very nice. However, email communications would always advise recipients not to tell other people about the event. I always thought this was strange– that our enjoyment of the event was arbitrarily limited for a situation that should have been really fun and inviting. One could argue that this was an issue of portion allotment– that too many people attending would have made this an unruly affair akin to a high school party bloated out of control. But truthfully, often people couldn’t attend and at the end of the day, it would have been people who knew each other (it was a small company). I always found the exclusiveness really unnecessary and as time passed, really nobody wanted to participate in these social outings because of the level of control exercised over everyone’s enjoyment.

Aside from the invitations, the attitude implied in these situations was, at least for me, more disturbing. One time, the abuser made a comment about one of the engineers at the company, saying, “I feel bad for {the engineer}– you can tell he wants to spend more time with us but he can’t.” At the time, it felt like a really ridiculous thing for an adult to say– like a line taken from the mean-girls movie “Heathers” transported to current day. But it was more silly to me because as a graduate of UC Berkeley who has worked in tech most of her life, most of my friends were more like the engineer than the group of alcohol-chugging partiers that people from this group associated themselves with. My immediate response was, “I don’t feel bad. If he wanted to spend time with me, I’d say yes. I don’t care.” There isn’t a bouncer and guest list when it comes to being in my life (I’m not that popular).

This also, if I really had to dissect it, was my main issue with the employee who kept pushing her diet on coworkers. Yeah, she was annoying, constantly lecturing on a diet that a) she wasn’t herself keeping to and b) wasn’t exactly working if she was. But what I found more distasteful about this person was that I think she thought she was better than other people. She seemed to come from some level of money but different hints that she would drop made me think she wasn’t really as rich as she thought she was. I don’t ultimately know. But her profile reveals that she was born in a very working class town in the SF Bay Area. And while she drove a luxury vehicle and owned a small apartment, she often complained about the price of gas and paid a mortgage.* These things don’t really make you rich. They are pretty average circumstances and yet I think she thought these rather average signals made her more special than everyone else.

This bothered me a lot. It bothered me for what it was (obnoxious behavior). But for me, it also bothered me as an abuse of privilege. I grew up, I would say, middle to upper middle class in a pretty middle class part of the Bay Area. There was a division, to a degree, in haves and have nots. Those of us who could afford it went to private high school and then on to pretty good colleges. Most of us went to grad school as well and are pretty professionally successful.

Some, however, weren’t so lucky. Because of upbringing, perhaps, some didn’t go the same route in life. I once was at the Blockbuster video (remember those?) in my old neighborhood and a guy kept the door open for me. I noticed that he was staring intensely at my face and then he said my name. It turns out it was a guy I’d gone to elementary school with. He asked me what I was up to and I said that I had graduated from college and was working. He admitted that he had started junior college but then had drug problems and it sounded like he was struggling to get back on his feet. It was a startling moment– how two people who started out in the same place but ended up in such different places later in life.

I feel like moments like this are a reminder of how lucky I am. Lucky to have had the guidance and financial support of my parents. Lucky to not have been derailed by any of the number of things that can take a person down in life– be it poor choices, unexpected health issues and the like. I think when you are the recipient of such riches in life, what you should do is try to use these things and be the best version of yourself you can be. I think it means not judging others for what they are not. It means not separating yourself from others because of perceived differences. It means helping others when you can. I don’t know that I reach these lofty goals everyday. In fact, I know that I don’t. But I think that I have parlayed what I have gained from a blessed upbringing and I like to think I have done some good in the world.

What you shouldn’t do when you have been given privilege in your life is use that as a reason to think you are better than others. To judge others on what they have not had the luck to have in their lives. To be mean and use this power to further the gap between yourself and those different than you. There is enough that makes us different, a point painfully highlighted in the recent deaths of African American youths at the hands of the police. There is race, socio-economic status, education and many other things that make it easy for us to look at one another and think, “You’re not like me. I don’t like you.” I think if we can start to focus not on our differences but to try to find some level of similarity and extend generosity on these perhaps shaky but very real, shared qualities, things could be better. Life could be better. We could be better.

When I really thought about it today, the benefit of surrounding yourself with people unlike you, is the doubt that it plants in your heart. When you’re always with people who are like you, yes, you probably won’t learn and grow as much. That is the benefit of having diversity, be it at college and universities or at the companies in which we work. But I also think that being around like-minded people makes you lazy. It makes you think that what you know is what there is to know. How you are is how you should be. When I’m around people who aren’t like me, I actually get really insecure. I think about ways I could be thinking and acting differently. Other lenses that I should consider for viewing the world. I’m a pretty critical person by nature. I know this and it has been pointed out to me. And when I’m around better-hearted, more generous people, it impacts me a lot. I think about ways I should be a better person and it implants the doubt within me to think about changing how I am in this world.

So I guess that’s where I’ll end this post. That excluding people is bad and the people who do it… maybe aren’t bad. I would say they are misguided. And I know how great I feel when I am included. And I should take the glow of happiness that I feel in my core when I am included and use this to try to make things better for those I am in contact with. I think this is a pretty good plan.

* I have friends who I would consider rich (having sold companies or being in higher up engineering roles) and the commonality I see in nearly all these people is a) ownership of older and simple, typically Japanese cars and b) the ability to buy or the actual act of purchasing a home in nearly-all or all-cash. I feel like “rich” in Silicon Valley looks very different than driving around in a BMW.

Look back financially at 2014

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Screenshot 2014-12-09 at 7.58.14 PMSince moving out of my parents’ house for the first time in 2004, I’ve thought it really important to be aware of my finances. Granted, I was making $35,000 a year so I had to be really careful. Still, in the effort of trying to save money perhaps to someday buy property or just in the attempt to build a comfortable nest egg, I try to be as aware of my spending habits as possible.

So here is the breakdown of how far my paycheck went in 2014:

Rent 18.8%
Needs 1.6%
401K 10.5%
Taxes 31.4%
Wedding 0.4%
Trip to Colombia 1.8%
Housing deposit 3.1%
Taxes (2013) 1.0%
Savings 20.9%
Stuff 10.5%

The saddest thing is that the largest chunk, about 1/3, of my total pay went to taxes. This is a reality and I would encourage everyone to be aware of exactly how much money they are actually taking home with them. Sometimes people lock onto their salary figure as the amount of funny money they have to play with but it’s simply not true.

Rather happily, the second largest chunk of my total pay went into my savings– yay! I aim to put 25% of my pay into savings. I think 20% is a great effort. I would be pleased with 15 % too but I think 20% is a solid effort. And then understandably rent is the next biggest chunk. I live in San Francisco where my monthly rent is $1600 so this is just what it is.

I spent about 10% on “stuff” which admittedly I don’t have a lot of information on. I use my credit card for most purchases so in theory, I could use something like mint.com to see where I’m spending. But I have found the analysis to be incorrect in the past so I’m not too sure. Stuff has included things like meals out, groceries, clothes, entertainment and other fun stuff.

* Update: I received feedback that “needs” was too ambiguous. I included in this category everything that I was obligated to pay, including cellphone, internet, and energy bills and gas.

Things I have been doing well

1) Food. I eat out very infrequently if I can avoid it. I want to make the most of the wonderful food SF has to offer but I also know that buying prepared food is one of the biggest ways that a person can spend money. If I’m hanging out, I will definitely eat out because I consider that eating and enjoying and socializing. However, I try to prepare food for “functional meals”– for example, my lunches at work. Eating lunch in the FiDi can range from $8-15. At that rate, I could spend $2000-3000 per year on food alone. I try to buy lunch maybe once a week (like from food trucks, because they are yummy!) and my company caters lunch once a week. But otherwise, I try to make my own food which keeps my costs lower.

2) Clothes and fun stuff. I have been very honest I think that I love buying things but that it has led me to accrue a ton of crap, which I have moved multiple times in the past few years. So I made the decision to start getting rid of things– having a garage sale that yielded me almost $100 and selling items on eBay. I also just sent off a bag of stuff to ThredUp. On the other side, I think I have been pretty reasonable about buying new things. I try to pass objects thorough a more stringent filter, asking myself, “Do I love this?” I’m not as susceptible to buying things simply because they are on sale. I need to keep working on this but I think I have made solid progress this year.

3) Transportation. This is less an active choice but more luck as well as making some good decision making. I chose apartments close to my workplace which granted wasn’t the funnest but at least meant that I spent minimal time commuting and less money on gas. Now that I live in SF, I use the bus system pretty extensively and happily my company pays for my pass. So my total transportation costs per year are like $15 (processing fees). I try to take Lyfts only when I need to (like late at night or when safety is an issue). I also didn’t bring my car to SF and don’t plan to. I will be selling my car sometime in the next month or so which means I won’t need to pay for storage insurance or registration. This should net me a little over $3,000 for my 12 year old vehicle, which I have kept in really great shape. It also means that I won’t need to pay the $500-1,000 it was costing me each year in maintenance.

4) Entertainment. I wanted to see if I could do without cable since my bill was becoming way too high. So in March, I got rid of cable and kept internet only. My monthly bill therefore is $40 and not $60-80. I use Netflix instead. I’ve been happy with this choice. I also borrow library books a bunch and I’ve been super happy with the SJ library and now with the selection at the SF library. So I’m happy that I’ve been able to keep my entertainment costs reasonable.

Things I need to work on in 2015

The only part that I can really work on is the “stuff” category. I am going to continue to try to be prudent in what I purchase. I had to buy a fair amount of new furniture for my new apartment. I would guess about $250 worth. So that shouldn’t need to continue in 2015. I’ll be honest that I’ve been lusting after a new couch. But I don’t need a new couch so I’m going to have to work to control those urges. And generally, I need to keep monitoring my purchase of new clothes and shoes and try to keep purging my wardrobe of things I don’t need.

On a side note, I was unemployed this year from mid-July until early September (6 weeks total). I applied for unemployment and though I was getting confirmation stubs, I never received payment. I just found my EDD card (it’s how unemployment funds are dispersed) from my first bout of unemployment a few years ago. I just checked the balance and $3000 was deposited there! Woot. So what I’m going to do is use this on only groceries and necessities in 2015. I am going to update my spend on blog entries throughout the year, the theme being “How far does $3000 go?”

So that’s it from me. I hope everyone is being fiscally responsible. Try graphing out your year’s spend or begin tracking how you use your money. You might find the results interesting!

Slow and steady

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Screenshot 2014-12-05 at 5.08.31 PMThe first week back to work after the Thanksgiving holiday has been intense and I now find myself at home with what I am hoping is a simple headcold. I went home yesterday with a migraine (missing a company ice skating party– boo!) and then despite sleeping for 9-10 hours last night, awoke feeling dizzy and disoriented. So I am going to make some macaroni and cheese for dinner tonight and hope that another full night’s rest is the trick to becoming totally healthy by tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking about and acting on Millennial-related things the past week or so and I thought it appropriate to write a blog post about some of the things that I have learned or shared in the process. Following my post from last week and a conversation I had with a friend, I read the book “20 Something Manifesto, Quarter-Lifers Speal Out About Who They Are, What They Want, and How to Get it” by Christine Hassler. As you might recall, I had had dinner with a former colleague and he was going through what I remembered to be a lot of the stuff I tackled when I was in my mid to late 20s. I suggested that he read the book (and I hope that he did) and in the mean time, out of a desire for personal edification as well as perhaps some nostalgia, I read it too.

The book breaks down different challenges (such as work, love, life, relationships, etc) and also talks about the different layers of change you must undergo in order to get past the difficulties of your 20s. It’s technically a self-help book so offers a lot of rhetorical questions and case studies/testimonials from other quarter-lifers to help the reader better understand his/her situation and formulate ways to make things better. I recommend the book, by the way.

Admittedly, I read the book very quickly. I mean, I survived my quarter-life crisis so it’s not like the advice was something that was totally relevant to my life today (though there are some parts that are evergreen and therefore applicable to all forms of life change/progress). I took away from the book the ideas that you should question what you want in life: who made you want it? Why do you want it? What is it really that you do want? And then you have to formulate a plan for each thing you want (after you’ve figured out really what you want) so that you can get it. Also, the book is a reassurance that everyone goes through these tough periods in life (some worse than others). You’re not alone but you also can’t rue.

A couple of nights ago, I talked to a first year MBA student at the business school that I attended. We talked about my job progress, the choices I made, what I thought I wanted vs. what I did want and what I pursued in these efforts. And for the past few days, I have been talking to a friend about money and how hard it is as a young person to save money.

In relaying personal anecdotes and talking strategy with these young people, I think the major takeaways that I would share with young people about these early stages of their lives is: it’s hard.  I wrote a post about a month back about the mistakes I see Millennials making and my creepy former coworker who was trolling my blog made the comment that I was being critical, as if I was perfect. Now, this individual has never been very good at reading comprehension or logic– I actually actively remember this from the days when we worked together– so his misinterpretation of my insights and intentions is not surprising. The whole premise of my blog is that while my background seems somewhat idyllic on the surface, life has actually been super hard and often it was hard work, luck and the grace of God that I have managed to be reasonably successful in most of the things I have tried my hands at. So I actually feel a strong bond and kinship with as well as empathy for my younger friends and the even-harder travails that they are facing in their lives.

In talking to the MBA student about work and my friend about money, I think my feedback was largely the same: slow and steady wins the race. Or even if it doesn’t win you the race, it’s the only choice you have so you better start at it. I think two of the worst things in life, especially as a young person and paired together, are inertia and desire. You want something but you either don’t know or are overwhelmed and can’t begin to get it. But you often don’t have a choice so you have to do any little thing you can… because frankly you don’t have any other choice.

So in the case of money: I had written a blog post about money some time back. I am very critical about Millennials and how they spend their money and my friend passed on this article, The Incredible Shrinking Incomes of Young Americans. It’s not that it’s hard as a young person to save money. It’s that it’s so much harder because costs are increasing at a rate unmatched to salaries.

(On a side note, the creepy ex-coworker also left a comment on this particular post saying that I was an idiot for pointing out that he had put $0 in retirement the previous year but had spent $900 on bottle service at a club. I stick by my word: this is behavior that Millennials should not follow. There is a word that describes people who so egregiously mismanage their money. And that word is: “poor.” In an irony, this coworker selected “Brandy” as his anonymous pen name. I’m not sure if that is a nod to his favorite alcoholic beverage or whether a 40-something cocktail waitress is his spirit animal. But any of our shared contacts should definitely ask him about this.)

Ok, back to me. I make a fair salary and I am able to put a solid amount of it into retirement and savings. But I remember back to the days when I was in my first proper job as a marketing assistant. I made $35,000. Can you believe that? I made so very little money it hurts to even think about. But back then, everything was cheaper. My rent was $500 a month. So even with a $35,000 salary, I think I was still able to put $6,000 a year into retirement and I think around $5,000 into savings. It’s not a lot but I’m proud that I was able to prioritize and to start thinking about building my nest egg.

It’s harder now. If you assume a starting salary is $50,000 and rent in the bay area is let’s say $1500 for a room, once you factor in everything else you spend money on, the outcome is sadly about the same. You’d be lucky if you can stockpile the remaining $10,000 into savings and retirement. So I critique because I’ve been there. And there isn’t a day that I don’t look at the $XX,000 I put into retirement or savings and think, “Damn it– I wanna buy new shoes.” It’s hard– but you have to make the effort and build solid habits otherwise it’s never going to happen.

I generally said the same thing to the MBA student about the career: that it’s hard to get a foothold, especially in some competitive industries, but every little thing counts. When I first entered the marketing world, I did anything I could to build a portfolio. I pitched stories to publications in order to write pieces and secure bylines. I did any voluntary thing that was suggested in order to build on my repetoire. I looked for internal opportunities to learn and grow. When you’re doing it, it feels sad and frustrating and you can’t ever see how any of these small efforts will amount to much. But the effort is worthwhile. The effort is necessary. And as much as it doesn’t feel like things aren’t happening, if you keep at it and work hard and look for moments of serendipity, things will start coming together.

Happy weekend, everybody!