Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tell me what you need...

.... and I'll tell you how to get along without it.
Have you ever been involved in a natural disaster? Did the power go off for days on end? Were you ever in a flood or a fire?

I've experienced an apartment fire, a 100-year flood, and more moves than I care to count. Okay. I counted. 27 moves in 33 years. Right now I'm on year 20 in my current house. A record for me. Seriously.

But I digress. If your life has ever been uprooted, you get a really good sense of what you NEED versus what you WANT. I'm sure you've heard this all before: our society is based on WANT. Our economy is focused around getting people to spend money on things they really don't need in order to keep the economy going. I don't know about you, but I used to feel a bit guilty if I didn't overspend at Christmas, or buy the latest gadget, or upgrade to the newest car.

Note I said "used to feel..."

A few years ago (quite a few, actually), I read a book called "Your Money or Your Life." It was a financial management kind of book that was recommended by a friend. Okay. I didn't read it. I skimmed it. What I got out of that book was this:

You work for money. You then spend that money. Figure out how much an item costs you, not in terms of money, but in terms of your time. In other words, how long did you work in order to afford to buy that item?

Now look at it this way: what if you're in a job you don't like? What if you feel your job is taking you away from something you would really, really like to do.

Now re-calculate those purchases with that in mind.

Everything comes with a price and it's not just the monetary price on the price tag. You are spending your time to make a purchase.

If that's the case: don't you think you should pause and consider before you make that purchase?

Here's your goal for today (or this week or month or year, depending on how you're reading this book):

Track your purchases for five days, making sure at least one of those days is a weekend day. Just jot down what you bought and what it cost. Set the list aside. Pull it out two weeks later. Evaluate the list: do you remember what you bought? Did it give you pleasure beyond the moment? Was the purchase a "need to buy" (lunch, groceries, etc.) or was it a "want to buy" (new CD, new shoes etc.)

Was it worth it?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Inch by inch, life's a cinch....

Yard by yard, life is hard.

I had one of those Panic Mode days today. This happens to me when I get behind at work. Keep in mind, 'behind' is a relative term. There's often just the appearance of being behind: I have a few emails stacked up, I have to evaluate what to work on, I need to prioritize and sort out what is important and what isn't.

Inevitably, when this happens, I end up feeling way stressed -- waaaayyyy stressed. I always have to take a deep breath, look at the Stack of Stuff, and just start digging through it. Usually an hour later I look up, realize I've accomplished a lot, and I start to relax. But there's always that initial "Oh, no!" Panic Mode.

I managed to avoid Panic Mode most of this summer. I deliberately turned my back on things that bugged me. I didn't rise to the bait when people posted annoying things. I kept my opinions to myself. I didn't do things that annoyed me (a lot of promotion, or exercising on days when I just damn well didn't want to). I gave myself a break. I relaxed.

What surprised me was how easy it was to slip back into Stress Mode. BUT -- and here's the biggie -- I can easily envision how easy it will be to slip back into Relax Mode. I've found that I accomplish almost as much when relaxed as when stressed. I used to think that being wound tight as a clock was the way to accomplish things.

Au contraire.

So I'm going to practice what I preach and relax today. I'm not going to panic. I've accomplished a few things already. Now I'm going to pick away at a couple of other things. And then I'm going to do what I want to do.

Can you do that? Can you shuffle the Stack so there's less stress? Maybe not today, maybe not every day, but ...

Try it. You might like it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's lonely at the top...

 ...but you eat better.

Having never been "at the top", I can't attest to this, but it appears to be true.

Notice I said 'appears'.

Do you know anyone who has more than you? Someone who's rich? Someone who takes interesting, expensive vacations? Someone who appears to have everything possible?

I do. There's a person (or two or three) I know who own vacation homes in Florida; they take R&R spa vacations at swanky resorts. They don't work outside the home and they go boating, water skiing, and jet off to Europe whenever the whim strikes.

And yet I've heard these people lament about how hard their lives are. How stressed they are. How tough it is to be happy. How they *need* that spa vacation because life has been so unbearable lately. My response (not to their face) is always bitter incredulity. What color is the sky on their planet? I realize it's all a matter of perspective -- maybe there's something hidden that we in the public don't see, but really ... on the face of it, how 'unbearable' could it be?

People like that are toxic, as far as I'm concerned. They exist to annoy you. They have a twisted view of the world. They purport to know how others feel, but *their* feelings are far more important. Their feelings about losing a game of tennis, about arguing with their spouse, about coping with recalcitrant children, are comparable to feelings of traumatic loss in others.

The best you can do is ignore them. If possible, whack them (see a previous post about Whack People). And if you can do neither, avoid them. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of peeve.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Experience is what you get

... when you don't get what you want.

How often do you get what you want? I don't know about you, but I'm doing pretty good. I have a home, a good job, a steady income, relatively good health, a partner who is supportive, and a loving family.

Did I really *want* all those things? I'm not sure, now. I do know that I appreciate all those things. I know far too many people who don't have those: they're unemployed, or in a toxic relationship, or hate their job, or have poor health. Every time I spend time with those folks I come away with an appreciation of what I do have.

To be honest, I think I usually set my 'want' list to things that are attainable. I don't 'want to climb Mt. Kilamanjaro' and I don't 'want to take a 10-day hike'. I'm intrigued by people who do those things and I sometimes think, "Man, I should do something like that. I should travel to Bali or Bolivia and hike in mountains and eat perched by the side of the road."

Then sanity returns. My idea of camping is a hotel without WiFi. I do walk a lot (about 10K steps a day) but I'm not up for 20K steps for 10 days or more. I hate heat and humidity. I like having my 'things' around me.

Maybe that's why I don't worry about getting what I want -- I'm a pragmatist in setting goals.

What about you? Is something on your 'want' list that might not be attainable? How bad do you want it? If you REALLY REALLY want it, you'll probably drop a lot of other things off that Want List and go after it.

And if you're not willing to drop bad do you want it?

Monday, September 13, 2010

When someone annoys you, it takes 42 muscles to frown.

But it takes only 4 muscles to extend your arm and whack them on the head.

There are some people who deserve a whack on the head. Let me just make that clear from the start. I don't subscribe to the notion that everyone is good and anyone who appears bad is just not understood. With some people -- even after understanding them, I dislike them and wish I could whack them on the head.

I wish there was an absolutely, fool-proof way to determine if someone is guilty of a crime. If there was, then I could be a total supporter of punishment that matches the crime. As it is, though, we need that bit of doubt to make sure the innocent aren't punished as well.

I have found that it's best if I try to avoid the people I want to whack. I just don't have patience for them, nor can I be polite around them. It's too easy to bait them and find ways to make fun of them instead of whacking them. Then I feel bad for baiting them or engaging in angry discussions or whatever.

Whack people can really interrupt your life. Just don't let them have that control. Walk away. But if you can get in a whack first ... go for it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Money can't buy happiness ...

 ... but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

I recently saw an article where Bill Gates and Warren Buffett (two of the richest people in the world) are trying to get their fellow billionaires to donate 1/2 of their wealth to charity.

My initial response was, "Well, yay!"

Then I thought: Wait a minute. Shouldn't that be a given? If you make a gazillion dollars a year, shouldn't you donate a boatload of it to some worthwhile cause.

Then I thought (lots of thinking that day): Why do I think that? If a person earns a gazillion dollars, why should they donate it somewhere? I donate a lot of money (a surprising amount, really), but it's easy: I have it automatically deducted from my check and/or credit to a credit card. I don't realize how much I'm donating until I get to tax time and I tally it up and look at the total in surprise.

And you know what I almost always say? "I could have done better."

Wealth truly is a relative term. Some people I know make barely minimum wage but they appear to be happy. Yes, they'd like more money as a cushion, but it isn't essential for their happiness. And I know some rich people whom I suspect are not as happy as they seem. They seem to be striving for ... something missing from their lives.

I think, more to the point, is the idea of 'misery'. True misery can be mitigated by money. Money can buy housing, or medical care, or peace of mind. It can't buy happiness, but it can buy a respite from anxiety.

Think about your own life. Do you truly feel 'misery' in any aspect? Would money help that? Or is your misery of your own making? And if it isn't ... is there some way to turn 'misery' into 'discomfort' (ignore me if you have a serious disease, etc. -- you're on the Special List).

Misery can be helped by money. Can your money help someone else's misery? And if you do donate it, how does that make you feel? I donate because it makes me feel good. How about you?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Women think men will change after marraige. Men think women won't.

They're both wrong.

I recently celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary. My husband and I went out to dinner and I said, "Who would have thought, 25 years ago, that we would be sitting here, eating this, and talking about that?"

I walk a fine line between optimism and pessimism. I think of myself as a pragmatist, but I always have a sneaking hope for the best to happen and will strive to make that happen. My husband is an unabashed pragmatist. His feeling is that he'll give something 100%. If things don't work out the way he thinks they will, he'll walk away without a backward glance.

I won't say we've been lucky in our marriage. We've had to work to make things, well, work, and we still have bumpy times. But we don't argue bitterly, we don't fight over money, and we manage to get along pretty well, day in and day out. I married him after a divorce, when I was in my 30s. He was in his late 20s and, as he put it, 'tired of the dating scene.' I think we found each other at the right time: we both had ideas of what we wanted in life and when we found someone we could share with, we decided that was the right thing to do.

I know of many people in what I call 'toxic relationships.' They don't have a supportive spouse, or they tiptoe around their spouse, or they don't share the same views on some pretty important issues. That makes their lives not really their own. They end up worrying so much what someone else will think that they lose track of what's important to them.

Is someone in your life supportive...or not? How does that color your perception of the world? Is that relationship essential to your life? If negative, is there any way it could be changed? Imagine your life different than it is now.

Is that worth considering?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Never attribute to malice...

 ....that which can be explained by stupidity.

I would amend this saying, perhaps, to: "Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by a lack of empathy." How hard is it for you to envision how other people feel? If you can't imagine how someone feels, then it's hard to imagine how you can hurt them (or offend them, etc.)

I'm not saying that you need to walk around trying to not offend people (sometimes it's just going to happen). But if you do offend someone and are surprised by it (or accused of being malicious), think about it. Is someone being over-sensitive or were you being stupid?

This happens a lot with e-mail. It's very easy to offend someone using email because there's no facial expressions (okay, there's smiley faces, but...), there's no tone of voice, and there's no one-to-one give-and-take. Once words are put into writing it's very hard to mitigate their meaning.

A friend told me about being at a swimming pool one day. Two teenaged girls started to fight -- kicking, screaming, pulling hair, pushing under the water fighting. Turns out one girl (girl A) told Girl B that Girl B was rude and not very nice to be around. So Girl B proceeded to try to drown Girl A. Girl A didn't just volunteer this info: Girl B had demanded to know why she (Girl B) had few friends. When Girl A told her, Girl B pitched a fit.

Well, duh.

Look at your life. Think about it. For better or worse, we have to get along with people. We can do without people in our lives, but they do intersect now and then.

Are the intersections going the way you want?