Saturday, April 30, 2011

No-Gifts Christmas

My mom has always done an amazing job of creating for us three children the sort of Christmas morning that could come out of a Lifetime movie or be featured in the background of a commercial for hot chocolate. When we were little, these Christmas mornings were the stuff of dreams. Even into adulthood I was impressed by how the gifts just seemed endless: a gift-wrap avalanche across the hardwood floor. (There's a strategy, you know, to creating that picturesque Christmas morning, and it involves a Tetris-like organization of presents.)

Christmas 2010 didn’t fall short in sheer number of packages. My baby sister is 14 - that funny age where little is more important than the contents those gifts promised, so I think we keep it up for her. But even as I was unwrapping and saying thank you and feeling very appreciative of the whole thing, I found that my real focus was on sharing occasional smiles with my significant other; laughing to myself at the impeccable process my dad has mastered over the years for dealing with the discarded paper, boxes, and bows; and marveling over how comfortable my brother’s girlfriend (now fiancĂ©e) seemed with the whole ordeal.  

One thing I found myself overlooking: the gifts.

When I think about how Christmas mornings have evolved for me, I realize the real magic for me is the fireplace; the rawhide chews we give to all the Labradors (my parents had four) to give them something to do besides work their way from person to person begging for validation; the full-spread breakfast my dad makes each year.

And so after Christmas 2010, I pulled my mom aside and proposed the following:
“What if we made next year the No-Gifts Christmas?”

She laughed and gave the response most obvious to us all:
“You know your little sister won’t go for it.”
(Baby Sis scored an iPod touch, almost a closet’s-worth of new clothes, and tickets to a Colts game.)

“Fine. She can have gifts. But what if we did No-Gifts for the rest of us?”

“Okay.” And then in classic Momma Goral style: “maybe we can all take a trip instead!”

Now you’re thinking.

So we’ll see, come November/December, how it all plays out.
I’ll have to remind Momma-G around about August, because that’s when she starts Christmas shopping.(Recreating the front of a Hallmark card every year takes time, you know.)

Shop Little, Buy Well

I recently visited an image consultant.

A few people in my life were a bit taken aback by this.
They furrowed their brows.
They fell silent.
Finally: “An image consultant?”
And then the pause, as they formulate the following in the nicest way they can:
Who sees an image consultant?” or “That doesn’t seem like you” or, simply: “Why?”

“Because,” I answered, “shopping should be far more efficient than it is.”

I think one of life’s little tragedies is how much we spend each year on clothes that we never wear.
Imagine if we could make shopping as easy as grocery shopping.
Imagine if we were able to select and bring home only the pieces we truly loved.
And imagine if, each time we (actually) wore those pieces, we glowed.

Imagine if, when we walked into a store, we could immediately circumvent the sneaky marketing and quickly filter through everything hanging oh-so-stragetically on the racks. Imagine if we could identify colors, patterns, shapes, styles and fits that suit us, and never have to bother with the rest. Imagine if shopping for something took less than a half hour.

(In this ideal world, I would even learn to skip Banana Republic altogether. Despite my perpetual efforts to convince them – through my continual purchases – of the possibility of a mutually-fruitful love affair between us, they insist on styling their clothes to fit a 5’3” woman. As it is, I buy and subsequently return about a dozen pieces a year.)

And imagine if we had enough confidence in our selections to buy quality over quantity. Rather than buying the same $10 t-shirt in seven colors, we can buy a single $40 t-shirt in a color that looks so good on us, it makes all the others irrelevant. Imagine if we bought a single $300 coat that lasts six years rather than replenishing our closets each year with a $50 coat for every mood. You make that investment one time, and any later shopping becomes superfluous. A well-chosen pair of $100 pumps will last years, if cared for, while a $30 pair will last only a few months and need to be replaced repeatedly in the same timeframe. (I know this because I’ve tried it both ways.)

Imagine if our closets were streamlined and smart; if each morning, we dressed ourselves with the certainty that any item we put on will make us look – and feel – like a million dollars. Imagine how differently our days would go, how differently we would perform, how much better we would feel. Imagine how much of our time and mind-space would be freed up not having to concern ourselves with a.) shopping (again) and b.) whether or not our outfit is “right.”

It is not about materialism, nor is it about buying more. It’s about shopping with purpose rather than for the sake of “going shopping.” It’s about shopping less altogether, buying better, spending less in the long run, and radiating, every day, a confidence that comes with feeling competent about the whole thing.

(Of course, this whole concept really only makes sense if, when you shop, you are doing so with the specific objective of buying X item. This concept does not, on the other hand, work for people who shop for amusement, for validation, for comfort, or for distraction. If you are one of those types, this post was likely the source of considerable confusion or resentment.)

my image consultant:

Having a Mortgage is Throwing Money Away

Let’s take two people, Person A and Person B:
Both are 22 years old; they just graduated from college and make the same salary.
They each have a “housing budget” of $1,000 per month.
(This housing budget, for the sake of simplicity, will never increase.)
They will make 5% on any money they invest.

Both of them eventually want to own a $200,000 home.

Person A wants to buy a home as soon as possible. He rents an apartment for $500 a month and invests the other $500 to save for a $40,000 down payment (20% of that $200,000 home.) Earning 5% on his investments, it takes just under 6 years to do this. At the age of 28, Person A takes out a 30-year 4.5% mortgage for the other $160,000, and now allocates his entire $1,000 housing budget toward his mortgage payment.

Person B, on the other hand, is going to rent for as long as possible and buy the house with cash. He too rents an apartment for $500 a month and invests the other $500 until he builds up a balance of $200,000. Earning 5%, it takes just under 20 years to do this. At the age of 42, Person B buys the house with cash.

Person A will own his home free and clear, as promised, at the age of 58.
He will pay roughly $150,000 in interest and $75,000 in taxes over the course of 30 years.
Let me repeat that: He will pay about $225,000 in interest and taxes – on a $200,000 home.

Person B will also own his home free and clear, but at the age of 42.
He can spend the next 20 years doing it again.
He paid $0 in interest to the bank during that time.
Still think it’s fair to assert that renting is “throwing money away?”
Bankers and real estate brokers sure would like you to.
(Who, exactly, do you think perpetuated that belief to begin with?)

Now, here’s the stipulation: Person B invested the other half of his budget, and he did it each and every month. He didn’t go buy a new TV or tons of shoes. He definitely didn’t start renting an apartment that cost $1,000 per month.  He was disciplined.

Some of us aren’t that disciplined, and wouldn’t save the other half of our budget. Some would end up spending the other $500, and when they retire, they’d have nothing to show for 40+ years of work.
Here’s the secret: that is who mortgages are for.

So: which type of person are you?

Begin with the End in Mind

This phrase has long been touted as a pathway to success (some of you may recognize it as Step #2 of Stephen Covey’s seven for “Highly Effective People”) and there’s a reason for it. There’s a whole lot of meat to this phrase that’s worth weighing into.

Begin with the end in mind
This is the real heart of this phrase. It emphasizes the importance of being strategic about our lives, and developing that mindset as early as possible. As we tumble out of high school and choose whether to go to college or begin working, that decision must be founded in our ultimate goal. When we choose a major, many of us do so with a career in mind. When we begin dating seriously (which is different ages for different people and, for some of us, never at all) many of us go on dates only with individuals that might be marriage material. 

An acquaintance recently lamented, “I didn’t think I’d be where I am now, at age 26.”
I commiserated: “Well, where did you think you’d be?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Just not here.”

And all my inklings of empathy ceased.

We cannot allow ourselves to be driftwood in our own lives. If we want certain things, we must actively pursue them. You want to be a millionaire by 40? Nobody is going to hand you a check at 39. If that is your end goal, you must pursue paths that will lead you there (not least of which is: save some of your income.) If you want to publish a book, write one. If you want to weigh 30 pounds less, stop eating heaps of pasta and burgers. (And maybe hit the gym?) Lay out a plan. It doesn’t have to be etched in stone – nobody has all the answers – but having metrics penciled along a general timeline allows us to evaluate how effective we’re being at achieving our end goals. 

Begin with the end in mind
Once we have given some thought to our ultimate goals and established a direction our lifestyles, we must also strive to be patient in realizing them. People have terrific ambitions, but some of us make the mistake of pursuing them too fast. (I am pretty guilty of making this mistake, and did so in the last month.) We want to be multi-millionaires, so we play the lottery; we want big, beautiful homes, so we bind ourselves with mortgages we can’t afford; we want luxury cars, so we take out car payments that amount to more than our rent; we want to ultimately run the show, and make the mistake of hinting this to our new boss.  

We rush things that should take time; we try to prove something – either to ourselves or to each other – by willing things to happen before they should or biting off more, financially, than we can chew. And so, it would behoove all of us to really think about what we want in life, to lay out a plan, to periodically revisit our progress along it, and to have patience with that progress.

Get Disenchanted

Here’s how life goes:
Get good grades, get into a good school, pick a good major, get good grades again, get an offer, bust our butts, buy a car, find someone suitable, marry them, buy a home together, have a baby or two, keep busting our butts, get promoted, take a vacation or two, get promoted again, buy a nicer car, maybe a bigger home, put the babies through college, make the final mortgage payment, retire.

And at each step along the way, we’re promised that the next one will be better. Having a job is better than being in school, getting promoted to the next job will be better than the one we have, retirement will be better than any of the jobs. Marriage is better than dating, having kids is better than being DINK’s.

But too many people, in the wake of everything going on around us both sociologically and economically, are now pausing, looking around, and realizing: we’re not happy. And with that realization comes the question: why not?

Because we never took the time to evaluate what would make us happy. Too many of us fret over what we “should” be doing – I should buy a home, I should get married before 30 – and not enough time evaluating who we are, fundamentally. You want to know why your cubicle job and your hour-long commute bums you out? Because none of us were meant for that, psychologically. The only reason it’s the norm is because not enough of us have rejected it. And that home with the white picket fence in the suburbs? Truth be told, our psyches weren’t really meant for that either.

Human beings are intensely social creatures, and base much of our understanding of the world and ourselves from interactions with others – even reading is a social interaction, given that another human being put pen to paper for you. When we tuck ourselves away in our cubicles and our houses like we’re expected to, we deny ourselves the full richness of that basic need. And yet we all continue to play along, because we assume that it’s the only way to go about it.

What if we stopped playing? What if we evaluated ourselves as individuals – with unique philosophies and preferences and metrics for happiness – rather than regard ourselves as one of millions. We, as individuals, are not a dime a dozen, and would benefit immensely from not rendering ourselves that status by striving so hard to be a part of “the norm.”

What if we evaluated whether it would make us happier to a.) live in a 2,000 sq. ft. home or b.) travel internationally every year? (For some of us, the answer is genuinely the former, and that’s okay.) What if we evaluated whether raising children would really make us happier – or even whether we want to dedicate the full time it takes to do it well? What if we asked ourselves if we’re buying the nice car or designer bag for ourselves or for some other reason?

And what if we got disenchanted with those things that simply don’t jive with what makes us happy? What if we instead spent our short lives pursuing things that do?

How do you define your value?

This has to do with self-esteem. It has to do with how you measure yourself compared to those around you and, more specifically and far more importantly, against whom you choose to compare yourself. What metrics are you using to establish your self-worth?

There is a very peculiar thing happens to some of us. We define our value using the wrong metrics, and our entire self-worth falls apart. The worst culprits are:
1.     possessions
2.     youth
3.     beauty

The problem with defining your value by your possessions is a layered one. First, there is no limit to the sheer amount of possessions you might strive to acquire. You could never collect every classic car, nor could you possibly own every racehorse, every vacation home in every city, every diamond, or all the designer shoes. There will never be a limit, and when you define your value by your possessions, there will simply never be “enough.” Secondly, there will always be someone with something cooler, bigger, faster, shinier, newer, etc. With so many of these things falling under subjective evaluation (do you have the nicest mansion or does your neighbor? Whose trophy wife is prettier?), you will always fall short when compared to somebody. Lastly – and most importantly – I think we all know that it is highly unlikely that having these possessions will make you as happy as you think those who already have them are.

The problem with defining your value by your youth, on the other hand, is an obvious one: you’ve already lined yourself up for inevitable failure. Being mortal human beings, youth is something that escapes all of us – we are meant to age, to grow old, to mature – and if we cling to fleeting phases of our lives and base our self-esteem on things that are, by their very nature, meant to fade away, we will always think we’re worth a little less today than we were yesterday. When you base your worth on your youth, you render yourself nothing more than a depreciating asset. You set yourself up for unhappiness.

The problem with beauty is that it’s subjective. The world has billions of people, all with unique features and mannerisms and assets, and you could never possibly be “the most beautiful.” (I say this realizing that there are many competitions out there that promise to assign that very title, but when I see the winners, as beautiful as they are – and they are! – I can’t help but think of all the other beautiful women who may have also won but never even entered the competition.) There is no single scale for beauty. It comes in countless forms. Just like the problem with possessions, there is never “beautiful enough.” There is no limit, and there will always be another woman who has a bigger smile or prettier eyes or smaller waist or fuller hips or longer legs or better hair.

Do not define your value based on things that could be lost or taken away. Certainly don’t define it by things that will most definitely fade over time. Doing so sets yourself up for nothing but unhappiness. Base your value on things that are designed to increase over a lifetime, and you will always perceive your self-worth to be higher today than it was yesterday. You will find life to be a fruitful experience, and that time delivers a great deal of satisfaction rather than disappointment. Value yourself – and others! – on their wisdom, their philanthropic efforts, their contribution to society, their relationships with others. And throughout your life, focus on these metrics and forget about the empty ones.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Interactive Rent vs. Buy Graph

I would like to share the following graph with all of you. Lately I have been toying with the argument between renting and buying - more specifically, I firmly believe that for many people (far more than we assume and far closer to the "majority,") renting makes more financial sense than buying.

Until I work out a more substantial argument, I wanted to encourage everyone to visit the following link. It's an interactive graph that The New York Times put together, and is far more succinct than I could ever muster in a single post.

So, for you:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

How to be a morning person

There are tremendous benefits to being a morning person. When you get up early, you experience a part of the day that many people miss - the first few hours of a day are calmer, quieter - more pristine - and for morning people, these hours are our most productive. 

Being a "morning person" involves little more than the simple mental resolution to be one. Plenty of people have gone from an era of dragging themselves out of bed in the morning to one of rarely hitting the snooze button. (I know because I was one - going from someone who dreaded 5 am to someone who relishes it.) If we've learned to enjoy mornings, you can too.

There are a lot of different ideas behind becoming a morning person - different strokes for different folks - but here are the few things that have worked for me:

1. Have something to look forward to. This is rule number one for a reason: it is the only rule that really matters. If you have something - no matter how small - that makes you want to get up, all you need to do is remind yourself what it is. It could be seeing someone special that afternoon, or wearing jeans because it's Friday, or something as easy as using your brand new shampoo or drinking a good cup of coffee. (When I worked as a barista and opened the cafe on Sundays, what compelled me to get up at 4:30 each morning was... well, first, a sense of responsibility... but secondly, having a cup of good coffee once I got there.)

2. Commit to getting up. Just do it. Don't overthink it. Don't dwell on the fact that the bed is oh-so-comfy (of course it is) or you just hate Monday mornings (we can work on that too.) If you give yourself a chance to consider sleeping in an option, of course you'll do it - so just get up. If it helps, adopt a quick phrase or saying (Benjamin Franklin's is popular) to give yourself a kick-start. (When I was on swim team in high school, the last thing I wanted was to envision myself submerged in water doing freestyle "bucket sprints" when it was 12 degrees outside (swimming is a winter sport for women.) I recall thinking the line from the Disney classic: "get up, Bambi. You must get up.") Nerd-alert, I know, but again, its not about being rational. Just commit to getting up, and have something short to urge you to do so.

3. Drink water after getting up. Maybe this isn't something anybody else would recommend when trying to be a morning person, but when you consider that your body is 60%+ water, re-hydrating will likely help it function better. I drink a glass or two while I'm getting ready, and - for me - it feels almost more effective than coffee at clearing the cobwebs. Maybe it's because I live in a very dry climate, or don't drink enough water the night before, but water is one of my secrets and may also work for you.

A few last notes on trying to get up earlier (and actually enjoy it) include: if you're going from a late wake-up to a much earlier one (more than two hours), I highly recommend working in increments. Get up 30 minutes earlier for a week, and then 30 minutes earlier than that the week after. Go to bed earlier in similar increments. And, lastly, don't get back in bed. I like to make my bed right away; it looks far less inviting when the covers are smoothed out, and very crisp and calming when you get back in at night.

And that's it! Some of these things may work, some may not. The trick is to figuring out what your recipe is for being a morning person, and working toward it. The benefits of doing so are endless.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ditch your car. It's good, I promise.

Our society functions largely on the role of cars - from our drive-thru coffee to our prairie-sized parking lots to the endless infrastructure that warrants our morning commute, we more or less get by only with the use of a car. It's one of our first big purchases out of school, one of the last things we let go when budgeting, and one thing we kinda think we can't do without.

I promise you, we can.
Not only that, it might even make our day to day lives better, not worse.

I stopped driving altogether about a year ago. When I tell people this (particuarly when I tell colleagues who also work on our corporate campus nestled deep in nowheresville, suburbia) they eye me with skepticism, humor, or pity. That's okay - I get it. I liked driving just as much as anyone - I have a lead foot and enjoy nothing more than seeing in how tight a window I can switch lanes, and at what speed. Summers meant rolling the windows down and slipping your flip flops off to drive barefoot; high school was defined by aimless cruising with the volume so loud it eventually blew my right speaker; nothing feels quite as liberating as having a car. So when people say to me; "I love driving. I could never do without," I smile at them and think: I know, I know... but, believe me, you could.

When you take all things into consideration - the costs, especially, but also the social aspects - things begin to take on a new light. The expenses associated with cars are all unique, but for my car, which that was paid off, with family-plan insurance and decent gas mileage, but demanded a parking spot in my downtown apartment garage, costs ran over $400 per month. (Add in a couple of flat tires or tow trucks, some oil changes and car washes, and it's quite a bit more.) You know what else $400 per month can buy? The answer is: a lot (of course) and, more specifically: it really depends on you. For me, it's buying a 3-week trip to Turkey and Greece. What bigger-ticket item have you hidden away in your heart? Bring it out! Dust it off! It's possible.

Then there's the social side - there have been a lot of studies done on the building blocks of happiness, especially in the last two decades. One thing most all research asserts? People are happier when with other people. Yep. This includes, of course, developing meaningful relationships with those around you - your significant other, your family members, your friends, your room-mate, your boss. It also, however, means surrounding yourself with people in general. One of the fastest way to send yourself into a psychological funk is to deal yourself a hand of social isolation. One way we've all done that is by choosing a solitary morning commute.

Now, I get it. Right now you might be thinking: I like my solitary morning commute! I listen to music full volume, I sing along, I yell things to the driver in front of me that I would never say in front of polite company, I pick my nose, I zone out. Whatever. Me too. And for a while, I would've agreed - that time alone was great.

But now I ride the bus, and get to talk to some really great people. People like James, one of the most upbeat personalities I've ever met. On an afternoon when I was feeling some serious blues (the "what am I doing with my life?" variety, no less), I overhead James ask a woman about her (seemingly serious) health issues that had dictated a strict new diet. His response? To beam and suggest, with enthusiasm you could only imagine, that ethiopian food could be just the ticket. "It's so healthy! You'll love it. Even your husband will love it! It's just beans and vegetables, but oh, yes, the flavors!" He was so convincing, in fact, that I interrupted to ask him to suggest a restaurant. (Queen of Sheba, on Colfax.)

People like that brighten my day on the bus in a way they never could in a car. I do not experience road rage on a bus, nor do I really experience the dreaded "weirdos" nearly as often as you might think. To be honest, it's predominately people just like you and me - good, friendly people just trying to make their way home in a better way.

A problem, too, is that we have "driving" all tied and tangled up in "status." It's hard, but I ignore that. Part of my transition was assuring people, for the first few months: "oh, I have a car. I just don't drive it." They seemed relieved by this. Whether it was really for me or them, I don't know, but it was something I did a lot in the beginning and now hardly ever.

Give it a shot. Do it for one day a week. Do it for any reason that makes sense to you - if it's not environmental, do it to save a few dollars. If not that, maybe to sneak a bike ride in as your exercise for the day. Or maybe just to shake up the routine of your commute. Any reason goes. But honestly, just try it. You might like it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

You deserve more

We hear a million movie lines in our lives, but every once in a while we hear one that latches onto our heart and stays rooted there. I don't mean those heavily-quoted movie lines, or the ones that make the whole theatre laugh until they cry. I mean lines that touch you.

One of the lines I treasure most, which I think should be highlighted somewhere in history as one of the greatest assertions from a love story and, incidentally, an explanation for most of the human experience, was from "Me and You and Everyone We Know," Miranda July's quirky love story about the unusual path of a lonely shoes salesman and an equally-lonely artist who chaperons the elderly for income.

The artist finds herself in the shoe store, waiting while a friend shops.
The shoe salesman glances at her feet and sees that her shoes have rubbed sores into them. 

He notes this observation out loud to her.
She says, "I mean, they kind of rub my ankles, but all shoes do that. I have low ankles."
He looks her in the eye.
"You think you deserve that pain, but you don't."

You think you deserve that pain, but you don't.

That line may be one of the most poignant articulations ever made. It is a single icicle cutting down from the eaves of an isolated country home in the dead of winter: the accumulation of an entire season, succinctly summarized.

Too many people go through life never hearing this, never having someone say it to them - not just in the case of bad shoes, but concerning most everything - in life, in love - and especially in our careers. We tolerate jobs that cut into our well-being.

While eating lunch with my colleagues in our corporate cafeteria, I looked around the room at everyone else eating.
I turned to my coworker and asked, "do you think these people are happy?
"Right now they are."
"Do you ever think about that?" I asked. "Whether people are happy?"
He stared at me. "Do you really think anybody is happy with their job?"

And there it was.

We grow up dreaming of being astronauts and princesses. We're told we can achieve anything we want. We're promised the world and permitted to dream beyond its limits. But at some point along the way, we abandon the concept of happiness altogether. We build lifestyles of cubicles and commutes; we do what we think we should. And then we wake up filled with dread on Monday morning, and suddenly think it's ludicrous that anybody would expect otherwise. "Nobody likes their job," we justify, "so I shouldn't expect to either."  

You think you deserve that pain, but you don't.

You deserve to face Monday with something more than despair. You deserve to feel excited about something more than Friday evenings. You deserve to feel that your happiness still counts.

I expect to like my job - even my Monday mornings. I think happiness should be a standard against which life decisions are measured, and that any decisions that perpetually undermine it should be regarded as poor ones. Don't bind yourself up in a mortgage if you're going to use it as an excuse to stay in a job you hate. Don't move to a city you hate for a job you hate just because it pays well. Don't arrange your life so that you work an hour from where you live if you're going to spend the commute missing your children grow up. Don't use your low ankles as an excuse to settle for shoes that hurt your feet; don't use your steady paycheck as an excuse for a job that methodically carves the life out of you.

I think happiness is a basic necessity. I expect happiness.
And, in the words of our shoe salesman: "I am prepared for amazing things to happen."
I think I deserve it. And I believe everyone we know - and you - do too.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Let's Go Ride a Bike

I just got a new job. The prospect of the new job, and the opportunities I believe it will offer, excites me. However, with the new job comes a new commute - "new" meaning that I will go from a 10-minute walk to a 30-minute drive (or, as the case may be, a 30-minute bus ride followed by a 30-minute bike ride.)

I have toyed with the idea of doing away with my car since the fall of 2007, when I was preparing to study abroad in London. Having always been deliriously headstrong, I was determined to use the experience to build an appreciation for public transportation and an applicable skillset in making one work. I packed two huge suitcases, handed my parents the keys, and advised them that I no longer wanted the car - it was a Grand Am, and my first car; they'd bought it for me when I was sixteen and I'd developed a deeply-rooted affection and named her "Grandy." And now I was informing them that Grandy and I were parting ways. (The actual circumstances of this exchange were far more dramatic that how I've described - there was a great deal of concern and frustration on my parents' behalf. Looking back, it's no surprise they perceived me as a difficult child.)

The car was, of course, still parked in front of their house when I returned to The States three months later. It was December when I got home, and I'm sure they expected me to go back on my decision once I had to commute to class in January. I didn't, however, and for several winter months persisted in taking the lightrail to class each day. (I lived at home for the second half of the school year.) I will not suggest that waiting for three transfers on a 45-minute commute added a lot to my quality of life. But I was determined. And though, when I moved back to campus, I took the car with me, I always regarded it with guilt. I began seeking live/work situations that would allow me to shed the vehicle. 

And so, when I lived a 10-minute walk from where I worked, it was by design. I moved close to downtown, found a job in the heart of it, and then moved closer. And then I drove my car back to my parents' house, and handed them the keys forever.

However, now I've acquired a new job, and have also, in the past 9 months, fallen in love with my apartment (and developed a disdain for the area of Metro Denver in which the office is located.) So I shall commute - despite the fact that I perceive having a commute as a considerable detriment to almost everyone's quality of life. The closer you live to where you work, the more time you have during your day to allocate to other - and vastly more important - things.

Could I go get my car? Of course.
Can't I afford to buy one? Yes, very likely.
The thing is, I don't want a car.

Having been without one for about a year now, and having had the concept in my head for almost 4 years, I have since discovered that my inclination toward such an ambition was right on. When I do drive, on occasion, I do not feel a sky-rocketing sense of satisfaction in it. The convenience and pleasure of driving is out-weighed by a number of things: first, the cost of parking (I live downtown, remember?), gas, insurance, maintenance, and the occasional speed ticket and towing incident. (Having the latter happen three times in one year is a sure incentive to scrap the thing altogether.)

Being someone who considers myself a bit of a "business-minded" environmentalist, I also feel that there is integrity in surrendering your car. If you care for the world around you in any capacity, and voice these perspectives while continuing to cruise around in a car, it sends an inconsistent message. I know that almost everyone else at the 4,000-person corporate campus where I work drives, but that doesn't mean that my actions are lost. After all, "be the change you wish to see in the world." Lead by example.

Then there are also the soft factors - driving permits too much autonomy, which not only fosters emotions like road rage, but also ones like loneliness. Being on the bus is being part of a community, however small and for however short a duration. And it permits you time to touch up your make-up, read the Journal, or daydream. You know, all those things that we do in our car anyway. Just more safely.

And so, I am riding my bike. I am heaving it onto the front the bus every day; I am heaving myself up the tremendous hill that leads to my office (which, to be fair, permits me a terrific ride back down after work.) I am getting off, at especially long uphill stretches, and walking. I am bringing my work clothes in a bag. I am changing in the lobby restroom before any of my coworkers see me rocking my yoga pants. And I am walking in as polished as - and more alert than - I would if I had driven.

And I think it will make me a stronger person. In more ways than one.