Life’s influential moments

There have been a handful of super influential moments in my life. These are the moments that I can clearly recall and that have shaped the direction that I have travelled in.

University was a really enriching time for me, not only because I was constantly being stimulated by new information from my courses, but because I nurtured a handful of skills within myself and often moved outside (sometimes pushed) of my comfort zone.

At the very start of my second year of university, I saw a posting on a website to apply for a position on a student leadership conference planning committee. I didn’t have very much event planning experience and wasn’t really sure what student leadership meant. In all honesty, I considered student leadership to be equivalent to student government, and I most certainly wasn’t involved in student government. However, there was something about the opportunity that really drew me in and for hours I hemmed and hawed about whether or not I should put in an application. Actually, I only had a few hours to think about things since the application deadline was later that day.

Deciding to throw my hat into the ring just so that I wouldn’t regret not applying ended up changing my life. I know, it sounds dramatic, but it’s true. This has actually become a decision-making mantra for me and has led to a few life-changing decisions since my second year of university.

I still remember the shock and elation of being offered an interview, the nervousness and excitement I felt going to the interview, and then the sheer delight of being offered a position on the committee. The committee chairs had taken a chance by bringing me on as a team member and I was motivated to make the most of the experience. Being the most junior student on the committee, I soaked up the wealth of knowledge from those sitting around the table at every meeting and the connections that I made as part of the whole experience, along with the skills that I demonstrated over the next several months, opened up many many more doors for me as I progressed through university. Whether it be other student leadership positions, 8 month co-operative education positions, or jobs on campus, rare and stimulating opportunities came forth and taught me so much about myself and how I fit into the world around me.

My network of students and staff who were deeply passionate about leadership and self development grew enormously, also pushed me to constantly challenge myself mentally, emotionally, physically, and psychologically.

Looking forward, life seems like a blank slate, waiting to be filled. Reflecting back, life feels more like a choose-your-own-adventure book where you only get to see the route you took but you can almost imagine, even just a little bit, what life could’ve been like had you chosen the other adventure option.

Deciding to throw my hat into the ring just so that I wouldn’t regret not applying ended up changing my life. This is how my life is being written.

I’ve saved…now what?

I’m posting a few links to posts that I really enjoyed on The Simple Dollar. I think I’m pretty on top of my finances but I also love to read about what other people are doing or recommending. Hey, I never know when I can pick up a great tip to incorporate into my own life!

As I mentioned very briefly here, moving to a cash diet has made it THAT MUCH MORE obvious to me how easy it was to treat myself to something when I made most purchases on credit cards. It was really timely to read Living Below Your Means is a Challenge for Everyone; I think we’re at a point in our lives where we’re really trying to shift more towards living below our means so that we can both save up more (emergency funds, retirement savings, vacation funds, paying down the mortgage) and reprioritize aspects of our lives. You know, stop buying stuff, enjoy the stuff that we already have, maybe get rid of stuff (donate, recycle) that we don’t really need, and create more memories and enjoy more experiences together.

I’m not sure if this is actually plausible but I think I was born with a saving instinct; my mom tells me that she would give me a snack when I was a wee toddler and she would find me munching on something a few days later…yes…I had hid part of the snack away so that I could eat more of it later. It’s a bit gross when I think about it now but I swear, that was the beginning of the story of where I am today. I came out of university with no debt (yay good paying university jobs that also taught me solid life skills), have a solid emergency fund, don’t live out of my means, and feel pretty comfortable with my financial situation. I do, however, feel internally conflicted about where I should be channeling my financial attention. Should I focus on saving for retirement, which – if the conventional age for retirement is between 55 and 65 – is many years away but with inflation and longer expected lifespans, could cost a substantial amount? Should I spend more on travel, which I love to do? Should we pay down the mortgage as quickly as possible? Should we use more of it now or save more of it for later, hoping that we will live to see a ‘later’? Reading Investing with Indirect (or No) Financial Returns makes me think more about what our financial priorities should be for the moment. I want to be prepared for what may happen tomorrow or ten years from now but I also want to make the most of my life today since I have no idea what may or may not happen tomorrow. How do we reconcile those two thoughts?

You already have everything you need

I read a post a few nights ago on no spend days, where the point is to dedicate at least one day per week to spending no money at all. There were a few thoughts running through my head as I read the post:

  • This concept is in no way new to me, as I go days without spending any money. I don’t drink coffee, I bring tea that I made from home with me to work every morning, I drink water for the rest of the day, I pack leftovers for lunch, and we cook dinner at home. We try to concentrate our errand-running to one time slot (either a weekday evening or on the weekend).
  • Hearing about record levels of consumer debt on a regular basis, I’m not too surprised that there are people who spend money, even a little bit (say for a morning coffee or for lunch), every single day. Those little amounts on a regular basis really add up quickly. If I went to Bridgehead, our local coffee shop, every morning for a $3 drink, that would cost me $15 for the work week, $45-60 for a month, and $540-720 for the year! That’s insane!
  • Boxing day just passed and Black Friday wasn’t that long ago either. That’s a lot of people buying a lot of stuff. By contrast, I think movements such as Buy Nothing Day and Shopping Embargos (post-Christmas shopping moratorium) are growing, encouraging consumers to take a step back and really examine their buying habits, and folks are incorporating conscientious decision-making into their lives (think minimalism; I heard these guys speak at the World Domination Summit 2012.
  • I have always been quite prudent with my spending and I lean towards being a saver moreso than a spender. However, we recently moved from relying on credit cards to a cash-based lifestyle. Within the past two months of using mostly only cash in our household, I have really learned how engrained ‘instant gratification’ is in my life and, no matter how disciplined you are with money, just how much easier it is to spend with credit cards. Seeing the finite amount of cash in my wallet (I have a set monthly allowance), I really think about how I want to spend that money each month. I’ve foregone a lot of things that I thought I wanted but decided that I don’t really need…and after thinking about it for a few more hours, it turned out I didn’t really want it after all. It was more of an impulse. Instant gratification. But for what result?

That brings me to: You already have everything you need. I read this phrase on Jenny Blake’s Life After College blog and although she wrote it as inspiration for making things happen in your life, it really resonated with me about life in general. I have my health, my family is relatively healthy, I have a cozy home, I have some really amazing friends, I have a job, I do not have unaffordable debt, I have enough money to grant me freedom (e.g., for travel), and overall, I live a pretty good life. I already have everything I need. Acquiring additional material goods will not enrich my life any more than it already is and after a certain point, I think the constant draw to acquire things starts to detract from life.

This is how I see it in my own mind:

bell curve

I forgot to include axes with the graph; I think the y axis would be something like feeling of happiness, content, or value while the x axis would be volume or amount of stuff. That isn’t to say that I won’t buy things anymore. As with dieting, cutting yourself off from doing something will only make you want to do it more. As with eating, being mindful and making conscientious choices makes all the difference. Instead, I will think about the value that something will bring to my life compared to its costs (not limited to monetary) before buying it. I will also strive to save up for big purchases just as kids are encourage to do, by putting aside some of my monthly allowance until I can afford to buy it.

I already have everything I need.

Mirror, Mirror: 2012

Towards the end of a calendar year, many of us look back on the year that is almost over and reflect on our experiences. Here is a little snapshot of my year. These are my open, transparent thoughts so try not to judge too hard.

What disappointed me?

In certain aspects, my work life disappointed me. Quite often, I didn’t feel challenged and I didn’t feel like I was valuing my own time when I didn’t have very much work to do (as in, I could be spending my time more effectively if I didn’t have to be sitting at my desk even though I had already finished all of my work). I tend to be assigned special projects at work, which have their own ebbs and flows; during the peaks, they are stimulating and engaging but during the valleys, they don’t require much attention. I enjoy having almost too much work to do because it motivates me to get things done and pushes me to strive to be better. I still get things done and aim to be better, even if I’m fairly idle but the process is just dragged out more.

There are numerous people in my life who do cool things. They turn neat ideas and passions into businesses, they travel to amazing places, they share their wealth of knowledge to others by teaching classes or through mentoring, and they do things every day that just seem cool.

I find myself questioning the true value of the work that I do in the context of the greater world and whether I could be contributing my energy, time, and brain power in a more effective way, in a different environment. How can I continue to challenge myself?

What surprised me?

I can be my own biggest impediment. Sometimes for good reason and sometimes out of some sense of fear. I think it’s true for all of us.

I used to run ten years ago (wow has it really been that long!?). I stopped running 8 years ago due to injuries. I started playing ultimate (Frisbee not wrestling) 7 years ago. I stopped playing ultimate 2 years ago due to injuries. I hadn’t done any running-related activities since 2010 but in October, I decided to overcome my fear of re-injury and pain and try running again but this time, starting very slowly and ramping up very gradually. I learned about an app called C25k, which is a guided running program that can take you from the couch to running 5K in about ten weeks. I run slower than I used to (which wasn’t that quick in the first place) but why am I comparing myself to what I used to do 10 years ago!? I’ve been slowly increasing my run segments from 30 seconds to 5 minutes and although there have been some aches on occasion, overall, I feel great that I am running again. I am one step closer to one of my old goals of having a Walt Disney World Half Marathon finisher medal around my neck.

After most runs, I spend 20 minutes doing post-run yoga asanas (poses) guided by a great website called Do Yoga With Me. Funny enough, me moving beyond my own psychological barrier of fearing pain from running has also allowed me to meet another goal of practicing yoga at least once a week.

What did I fail at?

Failure isn’t all doom and gloom. Things don’t always go according to plan and sometimes you don’t meet your own definition of success. Failing means that you tried doing something and you might’ve learned something about yourself or what you were doing along the way.

We had a really adorable adult dog for two months earlier this year. In the end, we decided that we couldn’t give her the environment that she needed to be a happy dog. I questioned myself and my abilities, we learned a lot as a part of that experience, but I believe we made the best decision – not the easiest – that we could given our circumstances. My hopes were that she could go to a home with an experienced owner who could handle her reactions more effectively than we could and who could spend more time with her. I enjoyed our time with her. I learned a lot. I hope she was happy in her time with us. However, I wouldn’t put this experience in my ‘success’ column.

What did I do well at?

Have you heard of the quarter life crisis? In essence, it’s like a mid-life crisis in your mid-twenties. You graduate from university and the structure that the educational institutions provided while growing up is gone. A fundamental question constantly floats through your mind: what am I doing with my life?

As mentioned above, I’m not sure what I want to do with my professional life yet. My current job is interesting but lacks stimulation more often than not these days. After taking a 3 day professional development course in project management late last year and really enjoying it, I decided to try to create more options for myself by pursuing a certificate in project management through a local college. I’ve done a lot of project management over the past ten years but I’ve learned everything that I know as I went. I seem to have a knack for it as I find myself in a project/event manager role time and again, but now is as good a time as any to pick up some industry-accepted principles and methodologies. I recently completed my first course and the material has helped me improve in my professional capacity.

It feels great creating opportunities and new experiences for myself. I really enjoy learning things and enriching my own life through formal and informal education. I made steps this year towards making things happen in my life and I feel proud of that. Don’t just settle if you’re not on the right path.