Your Self Worth Is Not Determined By How Much You Do For Others or How You Are Perceived: Why Listening Matters

This is a difficult lesson for a lot of people, including myself. And how well we learn it depends on a lot of varying factors. From how we were treated in our early childhood to the ways we see how we’re able to effect our surroundings and make changes in our lives. If handled poorly, we can be paralyzed by fear for not adding up to our learned expectations. And these standards or expectations can sometimes feel impossible to meet.

Childhood’s What Makes You

For me in my childhood, I was told this message on a regular basis. There was a constant stream of criticism and negative judgements and a finite amount of praise or positive reinforcement. In fact, I only ever remember receiving one compliment from one of my caregivers in my childhood and it was based on how attractive my calves were. This did not make for a caring or warm, nurturing environment.

I was however, told how lazy I was regularly and regardless of whether or not I was doing what was asked of me. A task that usually took the form of a chore of some sort. And to add insult to injury, I wasn’t shown or taught how to do the tasks that I was being called lazy for not doing correctly, with any amount of patience or thoughtful guidance. It was just expected that I should know how to do the task and do it perfect. This is the definition of an impossible standard.

So with all these negative messages and impossible standards I was being pummeled with and measured against, how did I find my way out of the trap of beating myself up for never feeling enough? Short answer, I didn’t for a long time. I continued to abuse myself and others in the same ways I was abused.

Living Under Unachievable Expectations

These dangerously unreasonable expectations I was raised with, followed me throughout my life. I was using the insanity producing sentiment of, “is that all you are capable of?” to pass judgement on everything that not only I was doing, but of those who were close to me as well. I almost always had a condescending attitude towards what others were doing and nothing anybody did was ever good enough.

What I feel was most confusing about these impossible expectations I held and those holding me to them was, that there was nothing backing them. They had no foundation, but I held on to them with conviction. Never questioning why I was measuring everything/body up in this way. But I was holding onto this way of being while being gripped with a sense of fear that if I didn’t meet my own impossible standards, I would be abandoned again as I had felt I was in my childhood.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my caregivers were acting under this same convictions of feeling unworthy of feeling belonging. For no other reason than because we were withholding our acceptance of one another from each other. We were keeping the very thing we wanted from ourselves by holding it back from those we were judging so harshly.

This is probably what is meant by we have the keys to our own prison. But if the keys are so buried under the rubble of our unreasonable standards, how do we even know what to look for? We need a guide, or a role model in the first place to begin the search for our own release from out of our prisons of unreasonable expectations and critical judgements.

Waking Up From The Unachievable

This is no easy task. I was so inundated with the ideas of perfection that were floating around in my head that the unachievable seemed reasonable. And this is a dangerous head space to inhabit. I was acting mean, entitled and made sure everybody within hearing range knew what my thoughts on the matter, whatever it was, were.

I was so entrenched in my unsustainable beliefs, that it took an act of God to wake me from them. This act came in the form of a woman. I met, and thought I fell in love with a woman who made me change my entire way of being. The relationship didn’t start out in a way that was romantic, or even healthy. But she taught me a few lessons that were essential to me changing the person I used to be. The most important one being how to forgive.

Learning to Forgive and Accept What Is

As I’ve said, we didn’t start out on the best note, but we were infatuated with one another. For me, the term, “real recognize real and you looking familiar”-Jay-Z, resonates with me because it describes the feeling of recognizing the same type of hurt in the other and knowing how to care for it. This, I’m convinced, is what was happening with us. We would have been much better as friends, but the alure of helping each other to heal from our similar wounds was much too strong to let our relationship just be casual.

So we stayed together. And again, we were tested every step of the way. Some things happened that I won’t go into detail about, but they were comprised of what usually bring most relationships to a bitter end without any chance for reconciliation. And I was asked to move past them in the first month of our relationship.

This wasn’t easy, but I was willing to come to terms with them, confront them and heal from them. Even giving up things I loved for her sake, hoping to make it a little easier for her to bear the cost of her actions. But all my efforts were for not as she continued to spiral down. Again, not easy to watch.

But I don’t for a second regret the changes and sacrifices I made on her behalf, mostly because they ended up making me a better person in the end. And for that, I am grateful to her. But forgiveness was easy when I felt heard and seen for the first time since I was a child. Real recognize real has a powerful effect on those who’ve been neglected, and it was just the remedy I was looking for from feeling as though I was never adding up.

Real Recognize Real, Or, Stellar Communication

The ability for me to learn how to forgive myself and others, for not meeting my impossible standards and just about every other infraction, perceived or real, came down to how well I felt as though I was being heard and seen and then reciprocating to that. And feeling heard and seen really comes down to how well we communicate with one another.

So the lesson I learned in that relationship was, that for me, communication and feeling heard and seen were most important to feeling enough. This may seem like a no brainer, but for the chronically neglected, this set off all sorts of lightbulbs. The ability to be recognized in my emotions and having someone react to them in real time was what had been missing from my emotional world for what felt like my entire life.

It felt so comforting to be held in a space of feeling heard instead of the feelings of not adding up to the others expectations, that I would do just about anything to hold onto that feeling. This is what made forgiveness so easy for me. This space of feeling heard and seen allowed me the courage to overcome the feelings of hurt and sense of being done wrong and not adding up. And it’s from here that I was willing and able to build a healthy relationship.

These were the tools I was missing, was never taught by my caregivers in my youth. No wonder my relationships all failed in the past. But I also learned from our relationship that, just because I was ready to communicate open and honestly with my partner, didn’t also mean that she was ready to. So in the end, our relationship failed. Though this time not for lack of me trying to make it work.

Finding the Right Person Being Willing to Do the Difficult Work of Communicating

As I’ve said above, it can’t just be one person doing the work of communicating. If this is the case, there will most likely come with it a feeling of unrest, of not feeling heard and not quite knowing why. This was how I felt when I was unable to communicate my feelings to my partners. And in my case, I chose partners who were outspoken and knew exactly what they wanted. They wanted somebody who would come along for the ride while they made the decisions and I was looking for someone to do the work of living my life for me.

It seemed like a win win, but this type of control over another usually leaves one person feeling as though they have no control over their life and as though they aren’t doing enough to feel loved. For me, I was feeling listless and left wanting more. More out of my life, out of my relationships, more belonging. I was drinking a lot to numb the dis-ease of these feelings of lacking and feeling isolated. This was a lonely place to be.

So now that I know what was lacking from my past relationships, what’s changed? How does what I know now change the ways I see and choose my relationships in the present? For starters, I’m more aware of the people around me and their ability to listen to what I have to say.

Listening to Feel Heard

A partners ability to listen to feel a sense of being enough is now at the top of my list of desirable attributes. Before I was looking for one thing only, and that’s how good looking my partner was. This seemed to be the only thing that mattered to me, but looking back now it was the number one value that all of my caregivers could agree on. You could do terrible things to others, but as long as you were attractive, it was okay.

Only, this type of foundation in a relationship leads to connections based on superficialities that do not last. It also breeds resentment from my experience. There is a feeling of distance between each other that translates into the question, am I enough? This is because our emotional worlds are usually left unattended, uncared for by our partners and probably ourselves. And if you don’t feel heard or seen in a relationship, then you have what I’ve described above. Something that is based on control over the other and feeling as though you have to do more or be more to feel loved. The sentiment in this type of relationship being, I have what you want and you’d better do as I say or or fit my idea of you or I’ll take it away.

But if we listen to each other, attune to each other’s need, then we begin to build true intimacy. Feeling heard brings with it a sense of feeling loved and belonging. So being heard and listening to one another is a way to feeling belonging to each other. Finally feeling enough for the other person. The sentiment in this type of relationship being, I hear you and I’m here for you. This is how we build connections that are strong and lasting. Not withholding love from the other to feel belonging, but giving love to be open to receive love.

Giving Love to Feel Enough

So in the search for healthy relationships, we don’t have to push ourselves to give as much as humanly possible to feel loved and accepted. This is a trap that we get caught in usually because we already don’t feel as though we’re enough as we are, in order to feel loved. Instead of focusing on what we can do for others to feel loved, instead focus on how do we accept ourselves and others as we are. Then we’ll be driven to do for ourselves and others, only not from a place as Brene Brown so aptly puts it as, “hustling for approval”, but because we want what’s best for ourselves and our loved ones.

So if you feel as though you’re not adding up in some way, or have to do more in order to feel loved and belong to and with another, slow down and take a look at why you feel this way. Question what you’re believing about yourself and your belonging. You may just find that you’re already enough. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Impossible standards just make life difficult. #fortunecookie” by dziner is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Superiority Complex: When You Think You’re The Greatest, Kinda

This is something I know well. I’m not sure how long this post is going to be, but I’m just going to shoot from the hip on this one. I’ll explain my experience growing up, how I was raised and how I took those lessons from my early childhood care-givers and completely isolated myself from all those that tried to get close to me because I was acting as though I was better than just about everybody who came into my life. It’s a lonely story, but one that needs to be told incase others are stumbling down the same path I had.

If you are, know that it’s not to late to change things for the better. And I’ve also learned that people can be pretty forgiving. So no matter where you are on your journey, don’t lose heart! It gets better once you realize you need to shift your perspective.

When Your Way To Feel Belonging Is Through Exclusion

I grew up around a lot of big personalities. My family was loud, opinionated and rancorous at times. I don’t remember a lot of the details from my early childhood, but the main impression I got was, there were a lot of us and we had a good time.

Though, this changed abruptly with the death of a family member, we were all still pretty vocal about our opinions of others. It seemed that no matter who was being scrutinized, there was always fault to be found with the other person. The old adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say…”, was not observed in my family’s moral or value repertoire.

And this was our main mode of feeling a sense of belonging with one another, by tearing another down. This makes me a little sad to think about it now. I don’t remember any one of my care-givers ever complimenting somebody else in the family. Not even once. I think I may have received a compliment, about my appearance. But even that’s vague and I’m not entirely sure it actually happened the way I remember it. Ah, I remember! One of my care-givers told me I had nice calves and I think it was the only compliment I ever received. This is actually a little mind blowing now that I’m writing it down.

Dangling the Carrot

The one thing my family excelled in was withholding love and affection from one another while hinting or suggesting that they could love you, if only you were different in some way. Usually to fit their mold or idea of how you should be. It seemed that everybody had an image of what the perfect life should look like and if you didn’t fit, you were tossed to the side like a piece of garbage.

This may seem like a harsh assessment, but as I’ve said above, there wasn’t any positive reinforcement or any caring and understanding persons available. You either did what was expected of you and were granted permission to ridicule others together, or you were ostracized for not belonging, being ridiculed yourself. It was a polarizing and very sad place to be caught in the middle of.

So I did what was expected of me. I followed suit and made fun of others, acted superior to just about everybody and joined in on the consistent stream of ridicule that we were laying on one another. It was either that or be completely shunned for daring to be different. These were the building blocks of how I continued to manage my relationships outside of my family. This did not bode well for me in latter years.

When You Realize You Haven’t Made the Best Decisions

Again, this way of living did not leave me in a good place. I had very little emotional support, few friends and my family was almost nonexistent. I had found myself in unhealthy relationships, and living in a pretty consistent state of fear. This was something I hadn’t really come to understand until somewhat recently.

What I realized, after thinking about the type of romantic relationship I wanted for myself was, that I am deathly afraid of all the women in my life. The women in my family were so mean, so cutting, with their words and actions, that I constantly felt on edge around them. As well as feeling this way around people that remind me of them also.

My female family members were people I was trained to see as loving individuals, only to feel that they were abusive in the most subtle of ways. And they knew no restraint in their ire which made it all the worse. As an example of the types of comments they were capable of, one of my family members had told me that another of my family members would kill themselves if I was a certain way. I couldn’t have been more than fourteen at the time, but that remark to this day still shakes me a little.

There was a callous disregard for the emotions of others in all of our interactions, which was something I picked up and used as a survival tactic to protect myself. I was also so numb from the constant woundings, that it was difficult to feel anything at all. Also this is one of the main reasons I had such trouble building meaningful and lasting relationships with anybody. I just couldn’t bring myself to be open to another after being so thoroughly abused verbally. The idea of showing my vulnerabilities to someone who could do so much damage to me, one of the cornerstone of building intimate relationships, seemed crazy to me.

So, I avoided being in relationship with others. I acted larger than life on the outside to hide the fear of being hurt again by those I loved most. I also distanced myself from just about everybody in my life, further and further until I had only a few supports who stuck with me even though I was actively trying to push them away. I would like to again extend my gratitude to those who did stick by my side. You mean the world to me. Thank you <3.

Making Better Decisions: Hey, You Can Only Go Up From the Bottom

I hadn’t really realized how isolated I was until I decided to break off my relationship with my now ex-wife. Almost all the relationships I had were through her, and the ones I kept were based on activities such as drinking or avoiding responsibilities. So when I finally took the reigns of my life back from the void I created by pushing everybody away, I found that there was a lot of work that needed to be done.

I started by making a list of those who decided to stay in my life. The title of this list is, “stay connected”. And that’s jut what it’s for. One of the things I realized on how I had managed my relationships in the past was, that I did not pay attention to those closest to me and what was happening in their lives.

If listening to others and remembering what they say sounds like a no-brainer, you’re right. But I was never shown how to foster a friendship. Never taught that people had feelings that could be delicate at times and that the ways to nurture and grow a relationship was to water it with love by showing the other attention and a willingness to be there for them and care about what they’re going through. Another cornerstone of friendships. We were too busy cutting each other apart, searching for vulnerabilities to capitalize on to concern ourselves with caring about the other and their feelings or experiences.

Hurt People Hurt People

It’s also important to recognize that the people who hurt me by acting in the ways they did, aren’t monsters. I may be painting a pretty bleak picture with the types of things said and done, but they were only doing what they felt they had to in order to feel safe. I recognize this now as their insecurity or feeling they needed to control another to feel safety and belonging. Which makes it not personal in a way. It wasn’t about me, it was about them surviving.

I was in their shoes, I know how lonely and fearful they felt. I did the same things when I was in their shoes. But there are other ways of being and it’s important to know, that understanding why someone did something isn’t the same as condoning it.

So if the old saying is true, “hurt people hurt people”, than the opposite must be true too. Loving people then love people. And this is how I’m trying to change to reflect my new way of moving through the world.

Instead of focusing on all the ways I’ve been hurt by those who should have been there to support me, I’m now focusing on first, taking good care of myself, and second, extending care to others. This is no easy task if it’s something you’re not used to doing. I had to swallow a lot of pride first in order to be able to reach out to some people who had wronged me in the past.

But it’s worth it. knowing that I’m trying to be stronger. Building resilience to the pains endured in the past makes me more able to weather the emotions that are more difficult to feel.

I Know I Need to Open Up, But How?

I know… This is, as Melba would say, “no easy”. But necessary if you want to have meaningful relationships and friendships. A lot of it comes down to blind faith. Trusting that the other, whomever they are, won’t tear you down. It’s also worth mentioning that there are no completely safe relationships.

We are going to get hurt from time to time if we are in relationship. That’s inevitable. But the types of hurt aren’t usually that bad. And if they are shaping up to look more like abuse, then maybe it’s time to revisit your boundaries in the relationship. But there is a certain amount of collateral damage that comes with being connected. Luckily, the benefits far outweigh the detriments or the other option, being completely isolating yourself to avoid pain.

If you’ve been cut deeply by others, it’s best to start slow. Find a few people, one or two people who you can trust enough to start building your new friendships, even if they’re old friends with a new beginning. Find out what your personal values are, i.e. humility, honesty, kindness, caring, and find ways to practice them in your relationships with these new friends. This may look as simple as going for a walk with them, or saying things that are supportive, practicing and establishing your values. This will build trust.

And the more you practice these values, the stronger they will become. Your friendships will be held in the foundation of these values the more you practice them. This is how trust is built. It’s worth mentioning that this is a slow process, and it’s best not to rush into these relationships bearing the full extent of your vulnerabilities.

We all know people who over-share in inappropriate ways. Aka level jumping in friendships. It’s best to get a feel for how the relationship is going first. What is the other person sharing? Is it mostly small talk? Or are they giving you a peek at their inner worlds? Depending on what they are sharing, maybe you adjust to their level of intimacy. And if you feel like going a little deeper, push the boundaries a little and see how they react, but start small. If they are sharing about their S.O., share a similar story about your S.O. and build from there. See where it takes you. Pretty soon you’ll be old friends swapping stories and creating memories while staying true to your shared, established values.

Don’t Worry, It Gets Easier

And don’t forget, this is not easy work. It takes a lot of strength and will power to start off on this road. But if you’ve found that you have acted superior to others as a form of isolating yourself to cover over feelings of insecurity as I had, just know that it gets easier with practice. The more I engage with people in honest ways, the more I show care to those closest and the more I suck up my pride when I feel like I’ve been slighted and focus on what really matters, the easier it gets.

So make a list of the people you want to surround yourself with. The people you want to build your life together with. Then make it a point, a priority to get involved with what they’re up to. Keep a running list, as I do, of what they’re going through so you can be a better friend to them. Whatever it takes, get involved (thanks Jordan.) And don’t forget to show a little humility as well. I practice this when somebody says I’m great in some way by saying, “no, we’re great”. Better together : ) Peace and thanks for reading.

Image Credits:”Quillan – Smug” by Lil Shepherd is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Gathering News: How Waking Up Earlier Helped Me To Stay Informed Without Burning Out

Sleeping In and The News

I have a confession to make. I’ve stopped listening to the news. It’s not really out of character for me, as I’ve also stopped watching T.V. too. I do watch some shows once and a while, and I read headlines of news stories on my phone, but I’ve just gotten out of the habit of doing both, listening to the news and watching T.V.. I don’t miss it, but this kind of worries me a little. Just because I don’t stay abreast of current events doesn’t mean that they go away. And it also feels good to stay informed. Not just for my sake, but for others as well.

I want to stay on top of what’s happening in the world, but the other aspect of not doing it is, I just don’t have the time. I work two jobs to pay down my student loans and the times I’m not working I’m either cooking for the next two weeks, doing laundry, cooking dinner with family, trying to cram all the tasks I didn’t do during the week into my day off, working out or blogging. It’s amazing how quickly time fills up when you’re busy living your life.

I have another confession to make. On the days I don’t have to wake up at 5:30am to start work, I sleep till around 12 noon and sometimes as late as 2pm. It’s a problem. I think the worst part of me waking up so late is, I don’t really feel that bad about it. Therein lies the problem.

In fact, it wasn’t until I rolled into work 15 minutes late again, and my boss said something about me needing to be on time that I finally felt that something needed to change. You may be asking, how does me being lazy relate to listening to more news? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you how I changed both habits at the same time by waking up a little earlier.

Feeling Tired and Overwhelmed? Sleep Less

I was constantly feeling a little tired during the day and not looking forward to certain tasks. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some and I know I’m not alone. My alarm would go off at 5:30am and I would hit the snooze button thinking, “if I can just get 10 more minutes of sleep, then I’ll be satisfied.” But 10 minutes turned into 20 minutes, turned into 30 minutes. I just kept hitting snooze until finally I was showing up 15 minutes late for work almost everyday.

This was a blow to my ego, as I pride myself on my work ethic. I’m usually 15 minutes early to appointments and responsibilities. The times I used to be late for anything were few and far between. So when my boss told me we needed to talk, I knew I had to make some changes.

That Extra Half an Hour Matters

So, I hopped on the internet and started looking up ways to make it easier to feel awake in the morning. The problem I feel I’m having with waking early is, I just need more. I somehow thought, when I was under the impression that I could wake up at a reasonable hour, that my body would tell me when I’ve had enough sleep and that I would wake up feeling refreshed when I met my quota. But the more I slept, the later I would want to sleep. It was a cycle that was feeding into itself, the more I fed into it.

Some of the research I read suggested that I immediately turn on a bright light upon waking up. This sends a signal to our optic nerve that it’s time to start moving and triggers some biological functions in our bodies that help us to feel awake.

I also decided that I wanted to eat a healthier breakfast, without feeling rushed as I usually do. So I came up with a plan to wake a little earlier and start my morning routine off on the right foot. Instead of waking up at 5:30am, snoozing for 20 minutes and rushing to get out of the house, dressed and all my things gathered in 10 only to arrive at work at 6:15am, I set my alarm for 5am. This way I can wake up with ample time to get ready for the day.

Instead of hitting snooze, I get up right away and turn on the light to help my system get acclimated to being awake. I then head downstairs and make my morning cup of green tea and a green smoothie to get something healthy in me to start my day. I can then take my time getting ready for the day while I drink my tea and smoothie, without feeling rushed to get out the door and inevitably bad about being late to work. Win win.

That’s Great On Days I Work, But Can I Still Sleep In On The Weekends? Not If You Want to Stay Up On The News

Short answer, no. Some of the research I was reading suggests that you keep your schedule consistent throughout the week. Waking up at the same time everyday helps to get your body in a rhythm that will become self sustaining. So instead of waking up and wanting to hit snooze, you’ll wake up and feel more refreshed the more often you stay faithful to your schedule. And maybe you’ll just find the time to listen to the news again.

The first day I had off in which I woke early was incredible. The day prior I had slept till 2pm and felt rushed and mildly guilty about the losing so much of the day. I had forgotten about some plans I made with my father to check out the local hardware store to look for lumber to build some raised beds with. So the guilt of missing out on plans, added to the shame of me feeling as though I wasted an entire day and worked to leave me feeling pretty bad about the entire situation. It was not a good state to be in.

So that night I set an alarm for 7:30am, hoping to get a jump on the next day. Things couldn’t have worked out better. I woke at 7:30am, ate breakfast and drank tea, and got started in on my to-do list. I got more done between when I woke that day to the time I woke the day before than I had in the past three to four weeks.

I was crossing things off of my to-do list with excited fervor. I went to the local YMCA to look into a membership, I switched my current credit card to a greener, more sustainable one. I balanced my budget, put my shopping list together and chose recipes for the next two weeks. Blogged for a bit and yes, even listened to the news while I was getting things done. It. Felt. Good.

Okay, I’m Listening To The News Now, But It’s Depressing. Now What?

As soon as I started listening to the news again, I remembered why I stopped listening in the first place. There are so many negative stories happening, that it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed or fatigued by just being informed.

When I was in my twenties, I hopped on the Tom Ashbrook bandwagon and listened to a lot of On Point. I was also watching CNN, listening to NPR and just taking in as much information as possible. I took it to the extreme and my habits were definitely bordering unhealthy. This was also around the time I was mean spirited and forcefully, vocal with my opinions. Not a good combo.

What I’m realizing now is, that I was mean and opinionated to cover over the fear and uncertainty I was feeling while I was taking in all of this depressing news. I didn’t like it, but I chased after it to try and fit in with the image of who I thought I should be. So how am I now reconciling my distaste for the negative bias of the news and wanting to stay informed? Balance.

You Take The Good You Take The Bad…

I first had to find out what my reasons were for wanting to stay informed were before I could subject myself to the negativity that was omnipresent in the world of news. I ‘ve come to the conclusion that staying informed is more than just fitting the image of the responsible man I had in mind. It’s mostly about being support, for myself and others.

Just because I wasn’t listening to the news, didn’t mean those events affecting those whom are closest to me weren’t happening. I’ve come to realize that when I’m actively listening to the news, I can shape my opinions about what’s happening in the world and share them with those close in. We can offer solace to one another when terrible things are happening, as they are with the pandemic and in Ukraine currently. We can plan together when we hear about gas prices increasing or the current supply chain shortages. In short, we can help one another, be there for each other and all thanks to just by being informed.

With So Much Worry, What About The Positive?

But there needs to be some balance to the equation. I’ve recently downloaded an app called “The Good News Network” that sends push notifications with positive or uplifting headlines. This way I can get a balance, with the more sobering news from the mainstream media, paired with the uplifting ones from “The Good News Network”. It’s been a good shift, and really cute at times : )

I haven’t started yet, but my plan is to get my news in the mornings via NPR or a podcast with similar values to stay current, while reading something from “The Good News Network” in the evenings to end my day on a positive note. This way I’ll balance the stressful impact of the more difficult headlines with those of the more uplifting ones.

And there’s also an element of self-care that goes along with listening to the news. No longer will I pump large quantities of negativity into my life without checking in and giving myself the breaks I need from what’s bothering me. I think I used to operate under the assumption that “real men” could handle anything, including listening to an endless stream of horrifying headlines.

Gone are the days where I wallow in the angst and unrest of the world’s pain. Now, if something feels overwhelming I’ll take a break from the news and do some resourcing to help me through the difficult emotions.

Some of the podcasts I’ll be looking into are, NHK’s World News Japan, English News, and Morning Edition from NPR. The NHK network has a different cultural perspective than its American counter parts while NPR speaks to my more liberal-centrist views. Both networks are well respected and deliver quality news stories.

But wherever you get your news from, don’t forget that while you’re in the throws of staying up-to-date on current affairs, it’s okay to press pause if it feels like it’s too much. Listen to some music or just get lost in a crossword puzzle. But equally as important, find a news source that suits your taste. There’s no sense in trying to listen if it’s a chore tuning in.

I hope this has been helpful in some way to those needing a little extra boost to get your day started on the right foot. It isn’t always easy to make changes at first. Especially those that demand a bit of sacrificing your personal comfort. But I think you’ll find that the more you practice these new habits, the easier they’ll become. So if you’ve found yourself in some unhealthy habits when it comes to feeling more apart of the world around you, try these suggestions. You may just end up becoming a morning person : ) Peace and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “The news ticker in Times Square mentions the Occupy Wall Street protest happening on October 15th as protesters gather outside” by TenSafeFrogs is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Will I be Paying Off my Student Loans When I’m Ready to Retire? What to do About Retirement While You’re Paying Back Your Student Loans

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m in a LOT of student loan debt. I had no idea what I was in for when I started taking out loans for the degree I would eventually get 7 to 9 years after I started. As Melba would say, “sometimes, it’s no easy”. But you’d also know that I’m following the Dave Ramsey method of going all out and paying off my debt with everything I can throw at it.

Fortunately for me, I’m in a situation which allows me to make large payments on my loans. This isn’t the case for everybody though, and I recognize how lucky I am. But I also took out a little more than 2x the average person takes out in student loan debt. No bueno. Also, my situation will be changing soon leaving me with a sizeable amount of debt still to repay with less income to allocate towards it. And with the Biden administration not making any progress towards some form of loan forgiveness, it seems like it’s going to be a long haul.

So with all these financial uncertainties floating around in my life, my question is, “will I be paying off my student loans when I’m ready to retire? ” The short answer, no. Hopefully I’ll have my loans paid in full in the next few years, but this was only possible due to my circumstances being favorable to me paying off debt. I could have easily found myself in over my head with just over 100k in debt, with no plan or financial resources to begin to dig myself out of the hole I dug for myself. Let alone the foresight to plan for my inevitable retirement.

So now that I’m in a place where I’m able to concentrate on my financial situation while making calculated decisions on how to proceed with the future of my finances, what am I going to do with the mess I’ve created? How do I move forward with what seems like an impossible task? Take a deep breathe, relax and take it one step at a time. It won’t be easy, but it’s doable. Let me show you what I’ve found.

Some Resources

I’ve just started reading “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” by, Ramit Sethi on a rec from a friend of mine and it got me thinking about my situation. His book is a great place to start if you’re looking for a brass tacks way to understand your personal finances. Especially if you’re new to the world of investing and taking care of your future monetary needs. Some of the tools he introduced me to are:

Bankrate

This financial website has a lot of powerful tools you can use to get a handle on your personal finances. They have an array of calculators you can use to find out when you’ll be out of debt, like this student loan calculator. They also have an investment calculator as well. Helping you to more clearly map out your future by showing you how far your money will get you into retirement or while paying back high or low interest debt.

They also stay up to date with the latest news about the state of different aspects of finance. For example, they post weekly about the highlights of what’s changing with student loans. This way you can follow what’s happening with the department of education and if their decisions will effect you in anyway. All in all, a good tool to have that specifically deals with the subtle nuances of the financial world.

Doing Away With Fees

Ramit also goes into great detail about how to choose the right bank for your needs. The main takeaway for me was, pick a bank that’s not going to nickel and dime you to death. I remember having a bank account in my early or late twenties, where it seemed as though I was accruing an overdraft fee almost twice a week. And they really added up quickly at $30 a pop. This was mostly due to having overdraft protection, which I ended up using like a line of credit. No bueno.

Since then, and nearly a decade later I’ve finally got savvy enough to switch to a credit union that not only doesn’t have overdraft protection or fees, but reimburses me for ATM fees I incur when I use a foreign bank’s cash machine. No fees while banking is something that has been long overdue and I’m able to appreciate all the more for having to pay the exorbitant penalties I had in the past.

Credit Cards

When I took control of my finances for the first time about seven years ago and realized the mess I had made, I was more than a little concerned. I’ve said before on this blog, my credit card debt was over $20k. Add that to the rest of my loans and bills and I was just north of $100k. And what really blows my mind is, that I just stumbled my way into that massive hole. How was that even possible?

Regardless of how I got into debt, it was me who had to get myself out. I had four credit cards that I paid off in order of lowest to highest balance. This took a while. “The snowball method” was what I used and as Dave Ramsey teaches, gives you the emotional accomplishment of paying off a balance and the added bonus of adding that minimum payment from the last paid off card to the next one.

So when I started my debt free journey, I had four minimum payments to make while I was hammering away at the smallest debt. No matter which angle I look at it from, it took me a while to build momentum enough to start making real payments on my debt. I believe I started my debt snowball with my biggest payment being around $800 towards my smallest balance. Every time I paid off a card, I was able to free up the minimum payment of the card I just paid off, and dump it onto the next target.

I’m now making close to $2k payments on my loans every month. This is psychologically empowering, to see how far I’ve come from my max payment of $800. But I still have a ways to go. And now I have the past experience, as well as the habits that I’ve been building to consistently pay down my debt. And those habits will help me to save for my future once I’m done giving my money away to other people.

I now have one credit card that I treat like my debit card. I only spend what I know I can pay off at the end of each month, aka what I’ve budgeted for. I cash in on the rewards they give me for using their card and thanks to Ramit’s advice, set my card up to pay my statement balance automatically at the end of each month. So I don’t accrue any interest on purchases made. It’s been working well so far, but I’m ready to cancel my card if things change for the worse. I’m done paying high interest rates and would happily go to an all cash system.

The Plan

So now that I have my finances and spending habits under control, what’s the plan? Well, not a whole lot has changed. I’m still planning to pay off my loans first, throwing everything I have at it. Financially it makes the most sense for me. Until I’m down to zero owed, I’m still paying interest which would be about the same amount I’d be gaining on any investments I’d start. I may switch my loan to a bank with a lower interest rate, but for now, they’re in forbearance due to the COVID relief plan. So until May, 2022 I’m not paying any interest. Bonus!

B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E

So if I’m paying my student loans aggressively, as was the plan since the start, I’ll be able to fund my retirement accounts more fully, sooner. With my current plan, I’ll have my loans paid off in about four years and I’ll be putting close to fourteen hundred towards it each month.

And as I’ve learned with my previous experience of paying down credit card debt, using the snowball method, I can then use those same tactics to start paying myself. First, setting up my emergency fund of six months expenses, and second, maxing out my ROTH IRA contribution and putting any overflow into my 401k through my employer. I’ve built the healthy habits paying off my debt, now it’s time to use those newly acquired skills to make sure I’m taken care of in the future.

And Don’t Forget to Budget!

Above I glanced over a few of the accounts I’ll be using to fund my future. But if you’re like me, and most Americans, you have no idea what these accounts are, or what it means to contribute to them. I’ll be covering some strategies and the accounts I’ll be using in my next post. But for now I’d like to focus on just how important it is to get on a budget and check in with it and how well you’re sticking to it at least once a week.

The $700 Whole Foods Run, AKA I’m going to the grocery, be right back

This was something I said a lot. There’s a Whole Foods about a mile from my house. So inevitably when I would run out of something, I would head down to Whole Foods to pick it up. But while I was there grabbing whatever ingredient I was low on, I would also use this opportunity to pick up a few other impulse items. Candles and essential oil were high on my list of impulse buys (I’m looking at a wooden box full of oils as I type).

Everything was going pretty smoothly until I realized one month, when I was adding up my grocery budget from the previous month’s expenses, that I had spent about $750 on groceries alone! But the real icing on the cake was that this was the second month in a row that I had gorged on my food budget. No bueno.

There were a few contributing factors as to why I was so over my food budget on a consistent basis. One of them being, going to Whole Foods three times a week to be sure. And I’d like to state that I have nothing against Whole Foods. Their products are high quality and I agree with their values and commitment to organic foods. But I can just as easily get most of the products at its more reasonable counter part for less cash. This just makes good financial sense.

Since my realization of how far I was straying from my food budget, I’ve made a few changes to my routines. First and probably most importantly, I’ve stopped frequenting Whole Foods until I’ve paid off my student loans. As I’ve said, I like the store, but as Dave Ramsey puts it, I’m broke. I can’t afford to shop there.

Second, I shop twice a week at the more reasonable grocery store in my neighborhood. Shout out to Market Basket, whose selection is amazing and matched only by their prices.

Third, I’ve upped my food budget. I was trying to live off of $200 dollars a month when I first wrote my budget. This was nearly impossible. Upping my spending in this category allowed me the freedom to buy what I needed without feeling defeated every time I would inevitably go overbudget.

I also check in with my budget once a week, usually more, to see how I’m progressing in the different areas of my spending. This is a step that is crucial in keeping yourself accountable for sticking to your budget. For instance, it’s the 9th of the month right now and I only have enough for one big shop left. So I know that I need to rely on the food I already have in my pantry to help stretch my grocery budget a little farther.

Wrapping Up By Checking In

These quick check ins are invaluable to helping you stay on track with your budget. So set a plan, follow through and check in frequently. Next week I’ll be covering some strategies to help you navigate the waters of retirement. Though I’m not a professional, these are just my opinions of what I’d like to do to plan for my retirement. It seems a little scary and overwhelming at first, but once you understand the basics, you’ll see there isn’t much to it. And if you can develop some healthy savings habits, you’ll be well on your way to a comfortable retirement. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Money” by Digital Sextant is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Healthy Responsibility: How to Tell What It Looks Like and How Our Past Shapes Our Idea of What It Means

When I was a child in the eighties, responsibility was a word that was used liberally. It was also gender specific. This usually meant that the man in whatever situation, work or family, was responsible for the well-being of, well just about everything. They were the breadwinners, kept those in his charge safe, and provided for them and their needs as well. The women were prizes to be won and looked after what the man provided and who he provided for. This was/is a large amount of responsibility and was solely on the shoulders of the man.

As a child taking this role in, using black and white thinking to navigate their world, this can seem overwhelming. This was most definitely the case for me growing up and what I was taught about what it means to be a man. And I’m certain that I’m not alone. So my question is, if we’re taught what the role of a man is while we’re using black and white thinking to make sense of our world, how do we broaden our perspective to take in other ideas of what it means to be a man? I.e., what does a healthy amount of responsibility look like?

This is no easy task. But necessary if we want to become whole and healthy individuals. I’ll be sharing some of my experiences and the lessons I was taught growing up. What I was told and how I made sense of the role I was given to fit into, and how I’ve changed the definition of what it means to be a man for myself.

Man Up… or Don’t?

The phrase, “man up” was used a lot when I was a child growing up. It essentially means to be tough. Whatever is happening in the moment, if you were a “real” man, you’d be able to handle it no matter what. This was definitely the unspoken rule in my family and in society at large at the time.

So this is how I lived my life. To the measure of a “real” man. This meant drinking way to much, to prove I could “handle it”. I was also mean and condescending to others that I viewed as ineffectual or “weak”. Which I later realized was me preying on vulnerabilities I saw in others as they (the vulnerabilities) had been abused in me. In short, I was angry, abusive and uncertain of myself and supported in this iteration of my personality by those closest to me. Largely because it was how those who supported me were as well. And all of it monumentally unhealthy.

When I realized how unhealthy my definition of a man was, it was terrifying for me to realize what I had been striving to become. I had turned into my own abuser in a way, by punishing myself for not being invulnerable in the ways I was taught I needed to be as a man defined by my family. And to top it all off, I was supposed to be responsible not only for myself, but being a man meant, I was also responsible for the women and children in my family.

You’re the Man of the House Now…

I think this advice was dispensed to every boy whose parents divorced and whose mother had custody of the would be new man of the house. I was told this by every male family member when my parents split. As well meaning as their sentiment may have been, it felt like the world had just been laid on the shoulders of my eight year-old self. Overwhelming.

And the worst part of the entire experience was, no one told me what that meant! I was eight, my family was falling apart and according to all the adults in my life, I was in charge. It’s so absurd to think about now that it’s funny. But it sure didn’t feel that way then. But I took on that responsibility none-the-less.

I studied my caregivers like science projects, to find out what it was that I was supposed to be doing. As I’ve said before on this blog, that didn’t turn out so well. I ended up living as they did, which happened to be how Jim Morrison lived. As my friend Melba would say, this is no bueno.

And even after watching The Doors movie on repeat through my high school years, I still had no idea what was expected of me. I drank a lot, found myself in some pretty dangerous situations, but never had any direction on what I should have been doing. While my peers were studying to get good marks so they could attend a respectable college, I was drinking to numb the pain of the neglect I had experienced while fumbling around and looking for some center. Some stability.

And I never did learn what it meant to be the man of the house, because all the men who were supposed to show me how, left. And on top of that, the female caregivers in my family were consistently saying how they didn’t know how to raise a man. So I was abandoned and alone. And as a result, I made some pretty poor decisions. I left my then beautiful wife for a woman two thirds my age and who had been racing towards the bottom in the same ways I was. The Marla Singer to my Taylor Durden. But Luckily, this is where I turned it around and started making healthier choices.

Choosing to Be a Better Man

Exercise

It took me until I was in my thirties to recognize that I needed to make a change. But when I did I hit the ground running. Litterraly. I started my journey with exercise. First running then yoga. I had been so sedentary for such a long time that I had become unhealthy and out of shape. I was playing enough videogames to satisfy the hour requirements for a part-time job and drinking maybe half my caloric requirements for the day.

Running and yoga were ways for me to reconnect physically with my body and the world around me. I had spent so much time staring at a screen that it was almost like I was living in a two dimensional world. Taking care of my body’s needs helped bring me back into the third dimension. I remember asking a co-worker what the third dimension was, and he did a comical rendition by bouncing up, down, left, right and back and forth. I had spent so much time in front of a screen that I literally didn’t understand practically how dimensions worked. And I went to architecture school for a semester!

And the more I got up and out the door, or on my mat, especially when I didn’t want to, I became more comfortable with that feeling of wanting to avoid my responsibility. I began to enjoy the work I had previously avoided by playing video games and drinking. I now work harder because of it.

Learning to Cook for Myself

This was a big portion of my life that I had been neglecting for a very long time. And what’s most strange is, that I worked in the restaurant industry cooking and baking for a majority of my career. It should have been second nature. But drinking was still my main priority when it came to my caloric intake.

Again, in my thirties is when I started to take responsibility for my nutritional needs. It was also the first time I started viewing eating as my “nutritional needs” instead of just eating what I felt. This was a big shift from eating whatever I could find around the house and ordering takeout three to four times a week. Also better for my budget. Something I’ll be going over in more detail next week.

I began my nutritional journey by going vegan. It was a little extreme looking back on the decision now. I’m eating vegetarian currently, but still cook mostly vegan for myself. My weight is the healthiest it’s ever been and I’m also feeling much healthier. Win win. And the long term health benefits for going veg are undeniably the healthier nutritional option. Also cutting back on large amounts of processed foods helps as well, reserving them mostly for occasional treats and snacks.

Budgeting

When I began making the switch to healthier choices and decisions about my life, I was also about 110k in debt. Health bills, student loans, credit cards… If someone was lending money, I was most likely looking to borrow it.

So getting on a budget and being responsible for my financial world came rushing in all at once. This is when I found Dave Ramsey and started following his baby steps to getting and staying out of debt.

I began by taking stock of what I had. All my debts all piled up in one place so I could see just how deep a hole I had dug for myself. I then came up with a plan to pay down my debt by making and sticking to a written budget. This isn’t always easy.

There were definitely months where I looked at my grocery budget of 250$ and realized that I overshot it by 500$! These were difficult months. But the more effort I put into sticking to my budget, the more it paid off. I started to make some real progress on my debt goals and have cut it down to nearly half of what I originally started out with.

Not to mention that I’ve also had the time and resources to make plans for retirement as well as setting up an emergency fund for a little financial peace of mind. I’m feeling more responsible for my life now and it’s also given me more focus and direction on my career path and goals. Taking charge of your money is a great place to start recognizing what healthy responsibility looks like because it touches so many different aspects of our lives.

Being a Man: What it Means Now

The messages I received as a child of what it means to be a man, the gun and porn collections of my childhood caregivers, the bravado: these were not sustainable ways to be a man, let alone to live your life. I’ve come to realize that those who were showing me the way in my youth were struggling themselves with what it means to hold healthy amounts of responsibility.

For me now, being a man means to take care of my needs first. Not in a selfish way, but in a way that allows me the security and peace of mind to know that I’m on a good foundation. That no matter what comes up, I’m able to take care of myself while it’s happening. Then I can begin to focus on helping others on their paths.

But it begins with understanding where our unhealthy patterns of taking on too much responsibility lay. Are we consistently spreading ourselves too thin by feeling obligated to do as much as possible for others at our own expense. Our first obligation is to ourselves, then we can judge how much we’re able to take on without completely overwhelming ourselves.

So if you’re struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted at the amount of responsibilities you have, maybe it’s time to check in with yourself. What are the areas of your life that are feeling too much. What can you do to ease some of the stress? Are there small changes you can make to your routine that will shave off some of the responsibilities you have to a more manageable level?

These are all little ways where you are able to make a large impact on how you view and manage your responsibilities. And above all, know your limits. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’ve taken on too much, trust that your intuition is right. Listening to yourself is the first step in taking on a healthier amount of responsibility. As always, peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “What’s a weekend?/Resource overload” by AllieKF is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

%d bloggers like this: