Sunday, June 26, 2011

What do you talk about?

Success is almost meaningless if you define yourself merely by the numbers and luxury goods you’ve achieved through association. If that’s how you perceive and communicate success, you’ve missed the point.

Shortfalls, on the same note, have very little meaning or weight if your life – until you insist on defining yourself by your failures. You have a choice, but if you talk about losing millions on a bad bet or that you were head of product development for Pepsi Clear, you give people very few alternatives with which to identify you.

You are not measured by your income. Your income can be measured, yes and is, as such, a measurement, but it does not measure you as a person. If you insist on forcing it on people in that way, you’re selling yourself short – regardless of how much or little you make. Your character is invaluable, and therefore will always be worth more – to you and to others.

I met two people at a fundraising event yesterday.

The first introduced himself and promptly launched into the details of his expensive hobbies – equestrianism and international travel. He owns businesses, started his own line of luxury foods, lost a few million in his last venture (“which is fine” he made sure to add, “I’ll make it back”) and never once did he ask what anyone else in the group did for a living, or clue in on the hints we dropped that we’ve been riding horses longer than he has. "For all he knows," I sighed to a friend as we turned away, "we could be self-made millionaires or the top competitors in dressage. He never bothered to ask, though." And, in failing to do so, made a fool of himself.

The second individual spoke to everybody as though he’d been waiting all day for the opportunity. He had a way of listening as though he had no intention of interrupting, a way of talking that warmed everyone in the group. He looked at you as you spoke, and he shared things that connected to the conversation. What does he do for a living? He recently walked out on his plush corporate gig and is planning on travelling for two months. And, oh, by the way, he asked, what do you do?

Guess which one we walked away from (twice) and which one we wanted to have another drink with? Don't let your spending habits or your income dictate your presence with others. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pretend to apply to your dream school

There is very little as motivating as reading the sort of questions that MBA applications pose in their essay prompts. Most of us read “what is your greatest accomplishment?” and withdraw into ourselves in apprehension. “Tons!” comes the response of the egotist, “my two children,” from those who play well with others, “graduating high school” or “college” from those who are modest. “Nothing,” however, is the immediate – and very human – response for the rest of us.

Pessimism aside, the thing that makes questions like these motivating, however, is if you’re planning on applying to that program in three years.

Then you have those questions in your back pocket. You’re holding a copy of the final exam a week before it’s being administered – you’re going to study a little differently, right? You know exactly what’s going to be asked, you know what to focus on, and what to skip.

It’s the same with the applications. Those questions very rarely change drastically – as far as I know, the articulation of your Life Plan (and why this degree is so indispensable in achieving The Plan) still ranks pretty high in admissions – so if you want to get into a particular program, and you want to have a killer essay so that they see what you do in you, why not start molding your life into a great answer?

Even if you’re not applying to a graduate program, and never intend to, keeping these questions in mind still makes you think about your life differently, and may encourage you to step outside the box one more time than you would have otherwise, making all the difference in the world. In short, trying to be a better applicant makes you a better person.

Sample questions from real schools:

Tell us about your three greatest accomplishments. (Harvard Business School)

Tell us about an idea or an experience you have had that you find intellectually engaging. (Stanford)

Describe an accomplishment that exhibits your leadership style. (Yale)

Assume you are evaluating your application from the perspective of a student member of the admissions committee. Why would you and your peers select you for admission, and what impact would you make as a member of the school community? (Kellogg, Northwestern)

What if you had to answer these today?
What if, on the other hand, you had a couple more years to improve your answer?

You do.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The merit of minimalism - part I

Having things can help to solidify our identity. When we surround ourselves with possessions we love and ones that represent the things we love, it can serve to remind us of who we are.

When you get up in the morning and see the possessions that represent your values or interests, you don’t have to go through the exercise of recalling what your identity is, and it won’t change over time.

Seeing your running shoes reminds you of your new year’s resolution to run more. “Oh yes, that’s right. I’m a runner now.”

Your yoga mat coaxes you to broaden your practice or relax a little bit. The LSAT study manuals next to your bed remind you why you didn’t go out last night. The travel photos remind you why you’re saving up.

I wake up almost every morning to the realization that my dog has sauntered around to my side of the bed and is staring at me. The first thing I do after I get up is feed him, and that reminds me that he’s one of the most important things in my personal life.

When you surround yourself with everything, though, it confuses the psyche. If you toss your heels and party dress on top of your running shoes, you’re going to spend the next morning untangling everything and putting it away, postponing the run until later.  The effectiveness of using things to represent and remind significantly decreases when you start to surround yourself with too much. It muddles the identity.

On the other hand, when you streamline the items with which you surround yourself and protect yourself from being bombarded by too many messages, you grant yourself advantage of using your possessions and space to effectively define  who you are, and wake up each morning with the strength of that reminder.

Treasure your compliments

We as people tend to harbor the negative feedback we receive from others while forgetting the positive.

It’s good to absorb both – some of the best personal growth comes from constructive feedback – but too often, most of us relinquish the positive comments. Over time, we pad our psyche with the negativity  alone rather than an equal balance of both.

Perhaps it’s because we’re led to believe that leaning on those things is egotistical. I know I felt that way. The reality, though, is that if we collect those little positivity gems throughout our lives, it fosters a more secure sense of self, and drastically improves the way in which we interact with the world.

The next time someone gives you a compliment – and it can be anything you consider to be compliment – add it to a physical file or a Word document on your hard drive.

And whenever you’re feeling down, read through them.
And remember what a great person you are.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The BIG Questions

Am I happy?
Well, are you? How much do you smile during the day? How easy is it to let things slide? How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? How often do you suffer from pangs of jealousy, guilt, or resentment?

What’s going on right now?
Take out a piece of paper. List everything in your life that you like – down to the little details. (“I like my car, my dog, my time to get coffee and read the paper on Sunday mornings; I like nice bottles of wine, my handsome salary, the heirloom hutch upstairs. I like these things about my job.”) Whatever. List everything you like.
Now list everything you don’t like – be really analytical about it; challenge yourself to drill down to the details. Don’t just say “my job.” Be specific. What about your job do you dislike?

What should I improve?
Take both lists. First, identify things from the “happy” list that you could feasibly increase (and still receive the same enjoyment – while you may like yoga, you may or may not want to do it for two more hours a day.) Then, identify things from the “unhappy” list that are the biggest culprits, and target the top one or two.

How can I improve those things?
We make time for the things that are truly important to us. Especially in our leisure time, we build our lives based on what we choose to do with it. If you want to fish more, do it. On the flip side, begin to whittle away at the negative things – set boundaries with your boss on how late you’re willing to work or share your vision for the direction of your career. And actually do it.  

How did that go?
How efficient were you in taking these steps. How long did it take your motivation to manifest as action? How effective were your actions in achieving measurable changes? Was the experience positive? What roadblocks did you encounter? Many of us feel a bit paralyzed the first time we try to go about things like this. I think that’s pretty normal – the point is to take this experience and use it as fuel next time around.

Am I happy?
You certainly should be. If not, are you happier? If so, you’re moving in the right direction.

How much should you take out in student loans?

Answer: it depends.

More specifically, it predominantly depends on what you’ll likely be earning after graduation and the sort of lifestyle you want and with which you can be comfortable.

What’s the average starting salary for your major or career path? (A number of online resources make these numbers available – literally Google “average starting salary (your) major” for a start.) Take the average and decrease it by 10% to be conservative. Then divide that number by twelve to get your gross monthly pay. Multiply that number by 73-85% (depending on your tax bracket) to get your income after taxes. Now multiply that number by 15%. That’s the amount of your net monthly pay that you can comfortably allocate to student loan payments.

(When I first graduated, my student loan payments were just over 20% of my after-tax take-home pay, which was realistic and manageable with a few budget adjustments – like spending a lot less on transportation. I was comfortable giving up driving, but many wouldn’t be. It’s all personal preference.)

What if it looks like your student loan payments are going to be more than 15-20% of your pay?
You have two options:
First, if you’re pursuing a field you love that doesn’t pay a lot, and don’t want to leave it just to chase a salary, consider a more affordable education – either by transferring to a less expensive program, picking up student work or earning scholarships.
The second option is to consider pursuing a more lucrative career. Remember that resource you used to research the starting salary for your major? Explore other fields and compare numbers. If it makes sense, choose one that provides an income that would more comfortably support your loan repayment.

Whatever you choose, just don’t be like an author I once chanced upon, who wrote an entire book about her financial strain during her twenties after studying English at Harvard. She wrote several hundred pages blaming the school, her industry, and her employee for making her broke.

Average debt of a Harvard grad? About $100,000
Average starting salary for English majors? Just under $38,000
(That works out to $2,700 in monthly income to cover $1,200 in student loan payments each month. Honey, the odds were really against you from the get go. Do your research.)

Need a little help making these calculations easier?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pros and cons of debit cards

Ah, the best of both worlds. Debit cards are, I think, the beautiful marriage of all the greatest attributes of cash with all the special benefits of credit cards. Like the almost-perfect genetically-modified child of two mediocre parents.


Security – if you lose a debit card, you can report it and have it cancelled. If you’ve chosen a cool bank, you can even get the money back. If you lose cash, it’s gone forever.

Management – you can see each individual charge that you made. Who knew that you spend 20% of your income on food – 60% of which is just eating out – and another 15% on clothes? Answer? You did, my clever friend. Want to know why? Because you have a card. So you, unlike your cash-carrying pal, will know exactly where all of your money goes.

Build your credit score – How? By requesting a line of credit. Yep – lines of credit, otherwise known as cash reserves or reserve lines, contribute to your credit report.  

Clean - You want to know who’s touched that card you’re holding? You. And only the merchants you’ve handed it to. Any haggard-looking creepy men? Nope. Incidentally, it will never be crinkled at the bottom of your bag or folded with funky creases or sticky or smell weird.

Shop online – Sometimes, you want to buy that certain super cool thing, right here, right now, and have it shipped to your door rather than getting in your car, driving through traffic, and buying the one in the store that everybody else has touched. (Maybe that doesn’t matter with DVD’s, but when you’re pawing through the lingerie sales bin, sometimes you wonder who else has…) Just point, click, enter your info, and pick it up off your doorstep. Feels pretty good, huh? Yes it does. It also feels good to buy your tickets off the website when they go on sale rather than paying twice as much in cash to scalp them in the parking lot before the show.


Sleazy “introductory” rates? Nope
Bogus “rewards” programs? No way.
Sky-high interest payments? None of that either.
Accumulation of debt? Pretty difficult to accomplish.

There are, in fact, no cons that I can think of.

Except, of course, that street vendor hot dog…

Pros and cons of credit cards


Points and rewards – you get all kinds of goodies for spending what you were going to spend anyway. More than that, you can choose a card that rewards you in the form you value most, whether it’s cash back or flight miles.

Security – if you lose a credit card, you can report it and have it cancelled. You can even get the money back. If you lose cash, it’s gone forever.

Management – you can see each individual charge that you made. If you spend $3 on a coffee every day, you could feasibly see that that’s where almost $1,000 of your money goes each year.

Build your credit score – lenders like to know that you’re good for the money they let you borrow. The mortgage rate you are awarded on your first home, and the subsequent monthly payments, could be drastically different depending on the score you’ve built up.

Flexibility - You can pay now or pay later. While this understanding gets most of us into trouble, it also saves us the embarrassment of making the phone call that starts like this: "Hey, Mom. Dad. Um, it totally wasn’t my fault, but I kinda totaled my car..."


Points and rewards – let’s think critically here: chances are credit card companies wouldn’t offer these if they weren’t making money off of them. Not only are you likely paying for them in another way, but they also probably entice you to spend more than you otherwise would. Incidentally, have you taken a look at how slowly those points build up and how inflated the “rewards” are? 10,000 points for a $50 gift card? Gee, I must be a "valued" customer.

Interest – remember that $60 shirt you bought three months ago? If you pay only the minimum amount each month, it could easily become the miraculous $180 shirt.

Encourages debt – Why would a 21 year old girl ever need a $5,000 credit limit? If she spends the entire $5,000, how is she supposed to pay that off, given her current occupation as “student?” To the credit card companies, the answer to this question is largely irrelevant.

Pros and cons of cash


It’s great for buying street food.
It’s also nice – though not entirely necessary – for splitting drink tabs with friends.
And, I guess, it's great for folks who lack basic money management skills - you can only spend what you have.

That’s about it.


Security – If you lose your wallet, every bill inside of it is lost forever. There’s even a beguiling “good Samaritan” etiquette that proclaims that the returner of a wallet, despite doing a "good deed" by reuniting it with its rightful owner, is permitted to retain the cash. I think it’s ludicrous practice – “hey, buddy, I’m gonna do the right thing and give you your wallet back. But first, I’m gonna go ahead and help myself to its contents. Like any good person would.” That's how little you are the owner of your cash. 

Dirty – you don’t have to ever work as a bank teller to suspect how disgusting money is.
I, however, did work as a teller and, as a result, I know just how disgusting money is. You know that haggard-looking creepy man who’s wearing the same clothes from two days ago and wiping his nose on his sleeve? Yeah, he deposited a $10 bill into his account JUST before you withdrew one from yours. I know, because I was the teller on both of your transactions. Think it doesn't happen? Think again.

Brick and Mortar only – Oh, look at those great clearance shoes from our favorite retailer - online only! Oh, and check that out – tickets to our favorite band just went on sale! I’m going to buy them! But you can’t. Because you only have cash.

How much will you need? Who knows? Might as well take out $100 – maybe $200 – and just see where the night takes us! Yippy. And when we wake up tomorrow morning, we’ll just try to piece together where it all went…

Where did all your money go? – who knows?! Not you. I know where mine went because I used a card and can track all of it online! Neat, huh? It’s how the future will work. Until you join us there, you can spend your time racking your brain trying to recall whether your part of the tab last night was sixty dollars or eighty. And assuming you must have taken another cab in there at some point, because you’re still forty dollars short.

But hey – at least you got a hot dog from the street vendor.
That you do recall.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

After asking "what do you do?" follow up with this

We love to ask other people what they do. It’s social protocol, it’s a polite way of asking someone to share something about themselves, it’s an appropriate way to brag just a little, and it’s a conversation starter.

I ask people all the time. Yeah, I regret that we base our conversations off this – I think we build too much of our identity on the answer – but I do ask.

And after they answer, I always follow up with “do you like it?”
And the sad reality is that very rarely do I get any form of “yes.”

(In the last three months, there have only been two who said “yes”. One trains executive-level sales people. The other is a tennis instructor.)

Maybe we all answer in the way of “oh, it pays the bills” because we’re expected to be humble. Or maybe we play down our sheer delight with our jobs because we fear our conversation companion will resent us for it.

I don’t think so.
I think people are being honest.

Next time you’re asking what someone does – especially if you feel impressed by it – follow up by asking if they like it. And really listen to the way they answer.

I want to be one of the few people who beams as they talk about their job.
Who, if asked whether or not they like it, will smile and exclaim, “I love it.”

Don’t you?

We should all strive to be on that side of the fence. We should all take the time to identify and pursue careers that will satisfy our deepest needs as individuals. We would all benefit from spending our lives doing things that truly do delight us on every level.

You get what you allow

What are your personal standards? Do you uphold them?
Do your short-term interactions align with your long-term ideals?

Do you find yourself dating individuals who treat you poorly? Are you desperately unable to find the spouse your heart desires? You allow that. Do you have a two-hour commute and a job you hate? You allowed that too. Are you underpaid? You’ve allowed even that.

I overheard two of my coworkers having the following conversation:
“My friend just got an offer for $100,000 starting salary.”
“$100,000?! Jeez… I’d better make that some day.”

That statement jarred me.
The whole tone seemed askew.

Nobody is going to hand you $100,000 just because you kinda sorta think you’d “better" get it. "Some day."

I expect $100,000. It’s a standard. Not only that, but I have a timeline for salary milestones, and I take steps to achieve upward movement. I also take steps to ensure that I’m competitive as a candidate – I build up my market value as an employee – and I’ve targeted industries that are willing to interact on that level. I have principles– the value I think I’m worth in my career – and I’m prepared to defend them. It’s not some far-off, dreamy notion of “I’d better” achieve them. I hold them as a concrete expectation.

You should be too.  

You’d “better” make $100,000? No.
What steps have you taken to secure that? If you think you deserve it, say it with resolution. Work towards it methodically, and don’t settle. You think you deserve better? Treat it like it’s non-negotiable, and others will too.

You want a husband? Stop dating guys who operate as though they're still in high school.
You want respect? Then you should stop operating like you are still in high school.
You want a million dollars? Stop blowing through every paycheck.

If you don’t uphold and safeguard your value – if you fail to defend your standards – then how can you expect others to? Don’t get lethargic about the things you want, and don't talk about them as though they're not absolute.

Were those good decisions?

People ask themselves all the time whether they’ve made good decisions in life – this often manifests in the way of: “I wonder where I’d be now if…”

But here’s the thing: life is too short to spend each day dwelling on the one before it. If you go through life like that, you end up missing it. There are too many variables, too many decisions that we make, on which we could put the blame. It’s exhausting and it’s fruitless (you can’t change the past) and so is a tremendous waste of our time.

Rather than retrospectively wondering “what if?” instead ask yourself, right now, what you need to be happy in the future. (That’s the basis of the “what if?” question, isn’t it? The implication that you might have been happier had you done things differently.) Take the time to define those ideals early on, before the decisions get really big, and use them as the standard against which to measure decisions. What do you value? What do you want out of life? What ideals do you hold? Really devote some time to it – don’t simply write down the list everybody has. Write your own. And with each decision, ask yourself: “does this fit with my ideals?”

Don't compare your decisions to those that other people have made. Instead, compare them against your own list of ideals. Sure, Bob has a new Mercedes. But you didn't want a Mercedes, remember? You want to retire early and write ethnic cookbooks. So cool it with the Joneses. They have their own list of ideals - we all do. If you spend your life serving somebody else's, you're going to wake up one day with a hollow place in your stomach where yours has been neglected.

And, if you’re still left with nagging “what if?” questions, instead ask yourself: am I happy? Not “could I be happier?” There’s always, in our own little heads, a “happier” – something more we think we could have – so the answer to whether or not we could be happier will always be “yes,” making us feel that we didn’t do enough. Don’t hold yourself to a mirage on the horizon. Simply ask: “am I happy?”

If the answer is no, you either need to change your perspective on life or the things with which you’ve built yours. Or both. But before you make changes, be sure to define what you want out of life.

If the answer is yes – that you are happy – then there’s nothing to be asking “what if?” about to begin with. You done good. 

You have low self esteem

We all do. We all suffer from self-esteem issues. We all want to identify where we fit in the environment, and we all have developed different mechanisms for ensuring that we stay securely in the “norm.”

Some of us, though, are so preoccupied with prompting others for this perpetual validation that we begin to eliminate other things that may be more important. Like our own identity. Or our own time to consider our own ideals, perspectives and priorities.

Our self-esteem issues are largely just a shortage of self-reliance; self-assurance. Most of our issues do not immobilize us altogether, but rather allow us to feel more closely aligned with those around us, and they manifest in funny ways. We all use our phone as a social crutch when we walk into a room full of people we don’t know. (You and I both know that you didn’t get an urgent text the very moment you realized you didn’t know anyone here.) We drink more than anybody should, and we drink faster to keep up with the group. We must not ever sit alone on Saturday nights. We count our Facebook friends, we “like” what others already have. We don’t dine or see movies alone. We buy nice cars and nice watches and nice homes. We women dress in revealing clothes, and then not only skip around parties, but then also attend class or go to work in the same garb – granting permission to others to identify us by whatever physical characteristic we’ve showcased. We all fill our mind with meaningless knowledge so that we have something to talk about at the water cooler.

I challenge you: stop doing this. All of it. Not forever – just as an experiment. Stay in on a Friday night, with the tv off, and read. Or write. Or try your hand at oil painting. Or attempt to cook your partner the most elaborate multi-course meal you can find. Go out with friends and don’t drink. Women, go out on a Saturday night in something unflattering. Walk into a room and force yourself to experience the discomfort. And then smile – just smile, and see who smiles back. Go talk to them. Wear a plain white t-shirt every time you leave your home. Eat at the nicest restaurant in town or get box seats to the game and don’t tell anyone afterwards. Talk to people about real things rather than the latest scandal. Refuse and reject empty habits.

Become comfortable in your own skin. Generate your own validation, and become self-sufficient. Relax and relinquish the need for social approval. You are your own evidence of your value.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Setting priorities - personal

All of us get caught up in what we feel is expected of us. We build our lives based on what we see about the lives of others, and we make decisions that serve established social norms without enough regard to whether or not they meet our own ideals. Without defining what we value as people, we end up living other peoples’ lives rather than our own.

Exercise 1: Take out a piece of paper. Draw a vertical line down the middle. On the left hand side, write down the priorities in your life, in order. (Family, money, spiritual beliefs, personal growth, friends, education, social change, social status, having fun…) When you’re done, move to the right hand side of the paper, and write down the order in which you are currently dedicating yourself to each one. Then draw lines connecting each item in the left column to its place in the right one. Too many criss-crossing, diagonal lines means that your life is imbalanced. Begin to rearrange your life so that no lines cross.

Exercise 2: Write down specific personal goals that you want, in the order that you want them. You probably won’t be able to do everything in life. Do you want to change the world? Start a company? Raise a family of six? Travel to every continent? Earn two Masters degrees and a PhD? List everything you want, and then compare it to the first list. Are the specific goals in line with your life ideals?

Allocate Time – If your number one priority is “family” and your specific goal is to spend more time with your kids, don’t accept a job an hour and a half from where you live. Want two Masters degrees? Fill out the application rather than sleeping in on Saturday. Want to be healthier? Go to the gym rather than out for drinks. Our lives are built on the things that we allow, and we will live out the decisions we make. You will receive exactly what you establish, in terms of priorities and standards.  

Evaluate – How effectively is each goal being met with the time that you have? Did you cancel dinner with your wife twice in a month to get that project in on time? Which is more important? How are the hours during your day really being spent?

Adapt – When you’re young, your goals predominately serve yourself. But as you age, your priorities and your goals may change. While your job and gym time was the most important thing to you at the age of 23, maybe your newborn has taken precedence now. That happens. Rewrite your lists to meet the evolution of your life, and re-evaluate how effectively your habits have changed to serve them.

Setting priorities - financial

Without a roadmap in life, it’s too easy to get off track. If you go through life making decisions without any framework, you’ll wind up with at least some outcomes that make you unhappy. If you don’t know what you want and you don’t list those goals out in order, you can’t achieve them.  

Exercise 1: Take out a piece of paper. Draw a vertical line down the middle. On the left hand side, write down the priorities in your life, in order. (Family, money, spiritual beliefs, personal growth, friends, education, social change, social status, having fun…) When you’re done, move to the right hand side of the paper, and write down the order in which you are currently dedicating yourself to each one. Then draw lines connecting each item in the left column to its place in the right one. Too many criss-crossing, diagonal lines means that your life is imbalanced. Begin to rearrange your life so that no lines cross.

Exercise 2: Write down specific financial goals that you want, in the order that you want them. You probably won’t be able to have everything that money can buy (if, for example, you buy the BMW now, that’s less in your nest egg later.) Why do you work? What do you expect the money you earn to buy you – either today or decades from now? When you prioritize them, you focus on the ones you really want and relinquish your concern over the others.

Possible specific financial goals include:
Travel, pay off debt, build a nest egg, build an emergency fund, buy a luxury vehicle, save for a down payment, pay for the wedding, save for the kids’ education, or ensure your parents retire comfortably.

Write yours down.

Allocate – Now identify which ideal, from the first exercise, each financial goal is serving. Are they in line with one another? If your top priority in life is building a better life for your kids, why are you spending so much on eating out? The way that you spend your income should directly correlate with your priorities – the biggest chunk should be spent on the things that are most important. This does not mean that if “family” is most important, you should buy a $500,000 home. Doing that, in fact, is not serving “family” at all – it’s serving “social status.” So, if you say you care about your family most, don’t allocate 30% of your salary to buying a mansion. If retiring comfortably is the second most important thing, allocate more of your income to savings.

Evaluate – with each major purchase, ask yourself: is this in line with my top three priorities? Which ones is it serving? Which ones am I sacrificing? When making decisions, ensure that your top priority is being adequately met before moving on to invest in the next one. How effectively are you doing this? (A personal finance tool, like or, can help with this sort of evaluation. If you’re spending 15% of your income on clothing during the year, you’re not putting into retirement. Is that in line with your priorities?)

Adapt – Your financial goals – and maybe even your priorities – won’t be static throughout your life. Maybe paying off debt is the most important thing right now, but in a few years, you’ll want to start saving for retirement. (Ideally, you’d do both at the same time, depending on the type of debt and where each falls on your list.) As life progresses, so too will the way you spend your money and the way you make decisions. Always be flexible in adjusting them so they are best serving your priorities.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Job Barometer

Um, yes, your job can have a barometer. It should, after all, be evaluated with some degree of objectivity, should it not? And while there are countless factors that go into what makes your job yours, there is also a pretty important Big Question against which to measure our jobs.

And it goes a little something like this, the job barometer does: do you feel energized or exhausted?

I know that we all have days of feeling both – every job, no matter how great or how awful, has its peaks and valleys – but overall, when you think about your job, how do you feel?

How do you feel Monday morning? How about Thursday at about 2 pm?

Yes, first and foremost, everybody likes to feel happy. Feeling drained by what we’re doing make us feel unhappy. And our health, too, is better – stress takes its toll on the body. When you enjoy your job, you feel less stressed by its demands, your physical health benefits. We feel good.

It’s not just about choosing things that make us feel good – obviously we all endure sacrifices in order to realize other things that we want. This isn’t a purely hedonistic message. We benefit in countless ways when we have jobs that uplift rather than drain our spirits.

Beyond simply feeling like a million bucks, we earn ourselves more income. We are more successful when we're in jobs that energize us. We perform better, and we get promoted. Yep. Employers are people too, and, like most people, love to surround themselves with folks who exhibit enthusiasm and energy. When you feel energized naturally at work, and are able to maintain that attitude effortlessly, other people can tell. And they’ll put you in positions where your attitude can have more influence.

So it's not just touchy-feely.  
Seek out a job that energizes you, and you will see countless benefits across the board.

Pretend your job is an internship

Having a job is nice.
You have income, which means you can do stuff when you’re not at your job.
It gives you a reason to get up in the morning.
And something with which to define your long-term plan.

But sometimes, we hold on to jobs we shouldn’t. We get caught up in the comfort of it all, and don’t grant ourselves the simple privilege of asking: is this even a good fit?

And if it’s not a good fit, it may work for a while – you’ll put on a smile and go about your job like it was made just for you. But eventually, the whole charade will wear on you, and you will either be found out or ultimately "out" yourself.

So, before you get to that point, ask yourself: What if this were an internship?

Too often, we stop being critical about our jobs once we’ve secured salaries for ourselves. Maybe we’re reluctant to upset the employer, or we’re afraid of what will happen if we’re unemployed in the real world, or maybe we feel guilty about all the resources the company spent getting us on board, or maybe we really, really like that paycheck.

And while that's all understandable, instead ask yourself: what if this whole "job" thing were actually an internship? What if the obligation was for three months and nothing more?

Would you hope for an offer at the end of the summer? Would you strive to make the job that you have right now a permanent position if it really wasn’t? Or would you, in your job that you hold now, instead sit down with the boss to say, “thanks, but no thanks. This isn’t for me” and pack up your stuff? If so, would you have done it already? Or would you maybe be in the middle, at neither end of the spectrum. You're still feeling out the job you have now - maybe it's okay. Not great, not horrible, just good.

And if that's the case, take another few months to figure out where you stand.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Do you use Groupon?

I’m not asking if you log on every day. Nor am I asking if they send the deals directly to your inbox. I’m not wondering whether you buy the deals, or how often, or for whom, nor is this about how long it took before you caught wind of the whole idea.

Nope, none of that.

What I’m asking is: do you actually use it?

I think online daily deals are a fantastic idea – for those that leverage it properly. The right way to go about it? Buy things that you spend money on all the time; things for which you regularly pay full price. And that’s it.

No thoughts of, “oh that could be fun” or “I’ll bet my dear friend Mallory would like that” or “I think I’ve heard of that place.”

And after you buy it, use it. I’ve heard of tons of people who pay for the deal and then never cash in on it.

Then, my friend, it’s not a deal at all.

On sheets

Your sheets are important. Actually, sleep is what’s important, so there’s merit in how effectively your sheets are at putting you to sleep and keeping you there until morning.

We spend up to a third of our days – and our lives – sleeping, so it behooves us to give some consideration to how we’re investing in that time in order to deepen its quality.

First of all, you probably need to replace your sheets. Many of us do. I’ve only bought three sets my entire life, the first being back in high school, so if you’re at all like me, you may need to go shopping again.

Whether you start looking for sheets this weekend or next year, bear this in mind:

You will likely find satisfaction in:

• 300-400 thread count (and no more)
Sure, you can find thread count up and over 1,000, but the sensation of the sheets – and your enjoyment of them – actually starts to decline when you try to see how high you can go. (According to Wisegeek, “anything in excess of 400 is considered by most to be simply extraneous.”) Truth be told, I paid no heed to this advice when buying my last set of sheets, and spent much more than necessary to get a thread count above a thousand. And I can tell you with certainty: although they too are Egyptian cotton, if there’s any difference in texture between them and their 400-count cousins, it’s in the way of inferiority. 

I might liken it to the first sundae we are permitted to make on our own as children, when we think to ourselves, "heck yes, I like chocolate sauce! And if a swirl of chocolate sauce is good, then I'll bet half the bottle is gonna be amazing!"  And as we all realized about a half hour after that internal dialogue: that thought process is terribly flawed. So stick to "enough" rather than "too much." 

• Egyptian cotton, silk, flannel – any material that delights your sleeping style.
Your sheets should feel awesome when you get into bed each night. They should exude “slumber” and inspire feelings of comfort, whatever that means to you. Get whatever makes you feel good. (I personally can’t sleep on what I cast off as “novelty” textures – flannel gives me the heebie-jeebies – and strongly prefer cotton. Nothing against flannel or silk – some people swear by it. It’s all personal preference.)

• Soothing color
Your sheets should be solid, first and foremost – we’re certainly not in elementary school anymore and, unless you’re running a bed and breakfast, it’s also okay to leave even the pastel floral prints back in the 90’s. Beyond that, pick a “quiet,” “cocooning” color. Beige, lilac, white, light gray… whatever suits you (and your partner, if applicable.) Even navy or pewter gray, though they’re dark, make nice colors – they’re perfect for pulling over one’s head when the sunlight comes in a bit too charismatically in the morning.  

You will likely get little satisfaction from:

• Name brand
I’m guilty of indulging in this…. But it was back in adolescence, and I look back on it and wonder what I was thinking. What is the point of name brand sheets? You’re certainly not showing them off to anybody (please tell me you’re not dragging your guests into the Master bedroom and throwing back the covers…) So, why? There’s something peculiar and psychological about it, I know, but having been there, I can say: not necessary.

• More than one set
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity… how long does it take you to do a load of laundry? More than a full day? I don’t think so. And once you’ve put the spare set on the bed, you have to store the first set. It’s just silly.

• Anything over 400 thread count. Seriously, don’t do it.