Slow and steady

Standard

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!

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