Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What you learn from colleagues left behind

I chatted with an ex-colleague over IM today. Though she is, like so many exes of our personal lives, not someone with whom I have regular correspondence, she's also a rare touchpoint into an old life; a portal into what could've been, had I stayed.

After the typical chitchat covering respective travel and significant others, I finally got around to asking: "how's the bank?"

She got me up to date on the recent hirings and firings; who got promoted and who up and left.

And then she admitted what I had no idea she felt:
"I want to leave," she confessed, "but I feel stuck."

My heart fell - because up until that point, I thought she liked the gig.

I pointed out to her that few people are as stuck as they feel, and that the perfect job is out there for her. "Believe me when I tell you, it doesn't have to be this way."

She came back with the obvious reasons against it: a comfortable salary and weeks of upcoming planned vacation.
"If I keep my head down and ignore most of it," she explained, "I can coast by for now... until I can figure it out."

After we talked about it, she ultimately signed off with, "welcome to my life."
I responded by reminding her, "I know. It was once mine too."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Millionaires Aren't Made by Saving

You see it all the time: the “how to become a millionaire” articles and books all sharing one big theme:
Marie Claire’s article “How to Become a Millionaire – Easy Money Making” recommends “withdrawing 80 percent of your take-home pay for three months and dividing it into envelopes marked long-term savings, short-term savings, rent, clothing allowance, food, cable bills, partying, etc.” (“Becoming a millionaire by 30,” they assure you, is “easier than you think.”)

In his book “A Million Bucks by 30,” Alan Corey talks about how he’s frugal almost to a fault, so “by pinching pennies… he watched a pittance blossom into a seven-digit bank account” in about eight years, earning a modest salary. Pretty impressive, right?

What does this advice have in common?

It leads the reader to believe that, by being a slave to their savings plan, they too can join the millionaire ranks in less than a decade.

And while it’s true that that strategy will almost certainly get you there over the course of your life (yes, I do realize that saving can and does make people millionaires) the fraud of the message lies in one simple fact: saving alone won’t get you there by 30. Telling readers otherwise is outright deceitful. If you want it in the first half of your life rather than the last, millions are not made through savings.

Basic math reveals the impossibility: to build up a million-dollar bank roll between graduating college at 22 and celebrating your 30th birthday – and doing so solely through saving – you’d have to be earning…

$125,000 per year.
And saving just about every penny.

($1,000,000 / 8 years… $125,000)

Now, obviously this doesn’t include interest – you’d be earning some, right? Let’s say you made some exceptionally good investment decisions and earned an average of 8%. Then you’d have to save less, right? Well, you’re right – at 8%, you’d only have a save a mere $95,000 every single year.

(Which is no big deal, really, since you followed all that good advice, and are busy “pinching pennies” and “living within your means,” right?)

To become a millionaire by 30, by 40, by 50 – whatever – you have to do a lot more than buy the bargain brand toothpaste and live off Ramen (which, oh by the way, our aforementioned Alan Corey actually did. More incredulously, he actually chalks his success up to this habit and proudly mentions it no fewer than three times in his book. Eat Ramen every day, is his message, and you too can manage to save $95,000 of your $40,000 annual salary...)

The thing people don’t tell you is this: numbers will always be numbers, and a million dollars doesn’t manifest out of spare change over the course of 8 years. It can happen in the long run, sure, but here’s the real way to go about it more efficiently:
Create or transfer something of real value.
Remember that hypothetical 8% you earned on savings earlier? Forget about that 8%. If you’re shooting for zero to a million in under a decade, your new figure should start at 50%. That’s what you should be earning on your “savings,” which, by the way, aren't in stocks or bonds so much as they should be in small businesses - preferably your own. Think about things more aggressively, stop sweating over the difference of several cents at the grocery store, and start thinking bigger - and more creatively - about the value you could yield.

So, while Alan Corey did really earn a million dollars by the time he reached 30, the reality of it all is that he did it through real estate and local bars – not through Ramen noodles. Sorry to say, Alan, but you could’ve saved yourself – and your heart – the sodium and probably still made it to six digits eating proper food.

And until he – and Marie Claire – start telling it straight, I want you, dearest reader, to know the truth:

If you want to become one by 30, millionaires are not made by saving.
They’re made through making value.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Letting passion permeate professionalism

I think people are far too buttoned up in life.  

Now, to be entirely clear, I might be the most critical person in the room when it comes to advocating awareness and application of basic professional etiquette. (While I am especially critical of women - and am unable to whole-heartedly interact with four inch heels, short skirts, heavy make up or cleavage - I also take it personally when folks use poor grammar, fall apart in interviews, or gossip.)

That aside, once you've got the basics down and can interact with other people on a sufficiently appropriate level, loosen up. We don't laugh enough at work. We should laugh. And hug. And, when our colleagues ask about our weekends, we should talk about it genuinely - over lunch rather than hovering over the coffee pot. 

I was in a hot yoga class tonight, and as I was holding a pose and otherwise trying to focus on my breathing, a thought crossed my mind:
does the instructor (who was male and not un-hot himself) find women in his class attractive?

My first thought, in response, was: ohh, KG! That’s so unprofessional.

My second thought, however, was:  well, jeez, he certainly should! 

So then I got to thinking (which you’re not supposed to do in yoga to begin with; I find that this is the most difficult part of my practice)... we are all, at our core, real people. We all have biases, emotions, and - yes - chemistry that drive our decisions in life, including our professional paths.

So while I don't want my yoga instructor copping a feel as he adjusts my pose or sitting around comparing notes with fellow yogis, I also asked: is he supposed to shut down his normal, human elements? Of course not. He should celebrate them. I think that someone who's devoted his life to physial wellbeing, bodies and form should truly and deeply appreciate them.


He should let himself enjoy the elements of his work that led him to it in the first place.
He should let himself operate as a human being, and indulge his human tendencies.
We all should.

Letting passion trump professionalism makes our work more rewarding; we allow ourselves to operate according to our inner truths rather than the rules by which our work is governed, the former of which is more closely aligned with our happiness.

It's the doctor who tells her terminal patient: skip the treatment; spend your last few months at a beach home with your children.

It's the teacher who takes the child of an unhappy home under her wing.

It's the airport employee who refuses to load an emaciated dog onto a flight. (And gets fired for it.)

It's everyone who lets instincts trump instruction; who lets their own feelings come to their surface and who surrenders to their need to be human.

It's all of us, on the inside; it should be more and more of us, in practice.