Finding Purpose: Ikigai, The Japanese Concept Of A Life Well Lived

Not too long ago I was speaking with a friend about her decision to make a career switch. She’s a baker, like me, but is thinking about getting into the user interface side of the tech industry. We’re the same personality type on the Myers-Briggs so I can see her doing that type of work well. While we were on the topic, she sent me a link to an article about finding your Ikigai, a Japanese term that translates to finding your life’s purpose. And what’s more, there’s a practical guide to finding out what this is for you! I was hooked. But first, let me tell you a little about why this was so exciting for me to read about.

The Drift

Drifting through life listlessly was something that I knew all too well. I had drifted through my teens, twenties and through most of my thirties before I got a sense of how I wanted to live my life and the direction I wanted to take it in. This article, for me, was just frosting on the cupcake (thanks Sarah). A logical way to organize your passions is just the type of thing I’m passionate about and partly what this blog is about for me. But it took a lot of drifting for me to get to this point of self discovery.

The drift first started for me when I was in childhood still. My family had broke apart in what felt like one fell swoop and from that point on I had lost the support and foundation I had previously felt from my family. I was on my own from a very early age and it seemed that I was failing every test that life was throwing my way. It was a strange journey.

I remember looking at pornography as early as eight-years old, drinking when I was thirteen. Skipping school and falling in with the “wrong crowd” when I was in middle school and later, moving from sketchy apartment to unstable living situation until my late twenties. This was something that I attribute to not having many, if any stable role models growing up, showing me how to live a sustainable life. Just me, floating from uncertain situation to uncertain situation.

Role Models Matter

I’ve said before on this blog, my role models were living life like Jim Morrison, so I lived like him. And we all know how that story ended. But I studied Jim none-the-less, to find a sense of belonging as well as trying to have a good time while doing it. But as Modest mouse so aptly put it, the good times were indeed killing me.

I was drinking too much and avoiding all the relationships in my life, including the one with myself. It was a lonely place to be. I continued down this path until my early thirties, when things began to shift for me. But before that, I had literally no healthy role models to speak of and nothing to aspire to.

I kept shifting career focus in my schooling and it took me almost sixteen years to get my bachelors degree from start to finish! I changed my major twice and racking up close to 100k in debt in student loans and credit cards. This was a terrifying place to be. And all the while, no one thought to step in and intervein on my behalf. I understand that I was an adult, but I was also left to raise myself from the age of eight. Any guidance would have been helpful.

But unfortunately I was also the type of person who would scoff at the idea that I needed guidance. Mostly because I was taught that it was a sign of weakness to need somebody else’s help. This was the opposite of a healthy, well adjusted way of moving through life. I go into this some in my post on “Isolation and Being a Man“, about the unhealthy lessons I was taught on having to do it all on my own. Which is impossible, but that part of the lesson was left out of my schooling.

The Outcome

The outcome wasn’t good. I was left almost completely on my own save for a handful of supports, who thank God for them or things could have been really terrible for me. But I was still very much on my own, without any idea on how to move forward in my life.

My career was stagnant and I had little direction on where to go to do what I wanted while changing my life’s trajectory. I had some ideas on what I liked to do, but no idea how to shape that into something that I could make money from doing. This is the point where I needed to come up with a plan to make things happen for myself.

The Plan

This is where and when I started to take control of my situation by looking at what my strengths are and finding out what I liked and disliked. Luckily for me, I love it when a plan comes together : ) My MBPT is INTJ, so I’m a big picture person. This fits in beautifully with the Japanese concept of Ikigai, which in its most fundamental elements is; what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and something you can get paid for. Where all of these elements come together, this place is known as your Ikigai.

So my plan then became to look at my strengths and likes and then put them together to come up with a way to make them my focus and passion. And hopefully I’ll help some people along the way. So I began looking at the elements that come together that make me, me.

The Elements

I’ve always known that I like to organize things. Whether it’s a spice cabinet or my budget, I enjoy bringing different components together to be functional and coincide in harmony. I believe this is why bullet journaling is so appealing to me. It’s a place to organize thoughts and ideas while adding your own character to the process.

I also enjoy the different elements that come together that make a house, a home. I enjoy burning candles and the ambiance of a dimly lighted room. I enjoy engaging the senses through essential oil diffusers and softly playing music in the background. Being in the kitchen cooking meals is another source of enjoyment for me. The smells and heat from the range, smoker and oven, foods fermenting on the counter in colorful jars. The small things that come together to create a cozy environment.

Our shared green space is also something that’s been a resource for me. From some of my oldest memories of chanterelle picking with my uncle in the verdant mountains of Vermont, to hiking Killington on the Appalachian Trail a few years back, preserving these spaces is important to me. The fresh air and the scenery alone are well worth it, not to mention the environmental benefits keeping these spaces healthy brings.

And finally, bringing family and friends together in a sustainable way. A way where we can enjoy each others company in a non-judgmental, caring and kind way. Where we can enjoy and take comfort in the support and love we provide for one another. These are the things I love.

I also find refuge in writing. When I’m in the middle of putting a piece together, or come up with a fresh idea to write about, there’s a feeling of novelty, a sense of a new beginning. And being able to clearly communicate to others, be heard and hear others, is also something that’s very dear to me. Giving voice to the voiceless. Oh, and building things : )

Bringing It Together

Now that I have a good idea of what the elements of my personality are and most importantly, what brings me a sense of joy, I can use these as a jumping off point, into my Ikigai.

As an example of how my interests intersect my career path, I’m currently work in a family shelter. A sort of holding place for families experiencing homelessness. Although the circumstances are definitely sad, the attitudes are generally upbeat and surprisingly positive.

One of the ways I’ve been finding fulfillment at the shelter is by going through each area in the building, finding a new section of the shelter that needs a little TLC, and then organize and clean the crap out of these spaces.

A few weeks ago I started cleaning and organizing the pantry and kitchen storage in the shelter. If you’ve read my post on rotating your food stores, you’ll know I’ve already done a version of this in my own home. There’s a certain satisfying feeling I get when I look in my fridge and cabinets and see all my foods neatly organized as though they were shelves in a grocery. This probably hits me in a most primal place of food security, survival.

The Ikigai for me here is; I love to organize things, and especially food, the families needed a kitchen that was functional and well stocked with fresh foods, and I was getting paid for it. But watching the families gather in the kitchen and use the items I recently stocked was a rewarding feeling and the drive behind wanting to organize and clean. Watching them find joy in my work.

Living in a shelter, I can only imagine the amount of insecurity they are experiencing. So having enough food to fill this basic need must be a huge burden lifted from their day to day concerns. One more thing I’m able to help them with while also experiencing a sense of joy in the task.

And what’s more is, I was offered a full time position at the shelter helping to coordinate resources for the staff and families in helping find them permanent homes. So my love of organizing helped to show my dedication to the tasks that I take on, enough to be seen as indispensable. And all this by following where my interests lay.

Doing it For Yourself

When I was drifting, I didn’t have a focus, an anchor point. So I drifted from person to person, looking to be validated externally by what their expectations of me were. As a result, I wasn’t really living a life that was true to what I wanted, or what I even liked. This was no bueno, plain and simple. But that doesn’t mean that all of my previous experiences where negative ones, or something to be dismissed.

For example, I’m a baker by trade now and have worked in a variety of different capacities over the years. From bread baker to pastry chef, I’ve made a lot of baked goods. All of these past experiences have not only given me a great deal of appreciation for cooking and a zest for eating, it’s also given me the chance to work with some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. Such is the case with my current employer. Without their guidance and wisdom, I wouldn’t have made the choices and gained the experience to make me more of the best version of myself. And I will forever be grateful for their guidance.

What this means is, even if you’re not in your dream job right now, which I imagine is the case for most of us, find what you do like about the job you’re doing now. What are the aspects or tasks you have now that spark a little bit of creativity? What are the areas that bring you a sense of satisfaction when you complete them? Find these tasks and see where you can take them. Here is the starting point to finding your Ikigai.

I hope this has been helpful in some way. If you’ve found yourself in a place where you aren’t enjoying the different aspects of your job, maybe it’s time to dig a little deeper. Who knows what you’ll pull out. And maybe in the process, you just may find your calling. Peace, and thank for reading : )

Image Credits: “Ikigai- Japanese concept meaning ‘A reason for being’” by Mikel Agirregabiria Agirre is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

I’m 40, In Debt & Haven’t Saved for Retirement: What to do When It Feels too Late

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been paying off debt that I accrued in my early to late twenties. My debt was divided between credit cards and student loans. I’ve recently paid off my credit cards and have been going hard on my student loans. The next step for me is to invest in retirement. I’ve been following the Dave Ramsey “Baby Steps” to pay off my debt. And I’ve been excited with the results. Also, as a side note, these are only my experiences in researching what I need to do to retire. I am in no way an expert in the financial field. So this should only be taken as a rough guide to start asking questions. Speaking with a qualified financial advisor is the best way to get sound financial advise. So don’t take this article as the final word on investing.

The Basics

Along with paying down my credit card debt, I’ve learned how to write and follow a budget. This is how I’m learning to care for my financial needs. I have a small sum of money in savings for the first time ever and am making serious progress on my student loan debt. I’ve been so excited about the progress I’m making on paying off my debt, that I completely overlooked that I’ll be paying into retirement later than most people usually start. This has me a little worried about what my future is going to look like. So I started doing some research on the subject. But before I jump into saving for the future, I first had to look at what got me here in the first place.

Planning for the Future by Looking at the Past

When I first got into debt, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to finances. Much in the same ways I didn’t know how to care for and tend to my nutritional needs, finance was another area in which I was illiterate. I was living paycheck to paycheck for most of my adult life. And as soon as I was able to borrow money, I jumped at the chance. Looking back now, I’m not sure what the draw was. I was constantly in debt, all my credit cards were maxed out and I was missing payments and paying hefty fees for it.

But there was something about it that had me hooked. I was buying things I didn’t need, and using somebody else’s money to do it. And when it came time to pay for college, I treated student loans much in the same way I was treating my credit cards. They offered me the maximum payout amount and I took it each time. I didn’t know that I could accept ONLY what I needed from the loans. Not the entire sum. But the way I was living, I don’t think I would have chosen differently had I known.

I was accumulating so much debt, that I could have bought a small house in Western Massachusetts with the amount of loans and credit card debt I had. But I kept spending. And I hadn’t even thought about what I was going to do when it came time to retire. So when I finally took financial responsibility for my life for the first time in my early thirties, the outlook for my future was sobering.

I’m Paying Off My Debt, But What do I do About My Future?

I’m a little less than halfway through my debt currently. And the idea of being forty and just beginning to think about retirement, almost had me in panic mode. But here is where it is important to stay in control of your emotional world. And also know that just because you’re starting late, doesn’t mean that you are destined to be poor in your old age. You have options.

Make a Plan & Stay Fluid

The first thing I did was to come up with a date that I would be debt free. I’ve done this a few times already. It’s important to stay fluid while you go over your numbers, because Surprises will come up. And you will be met with setbacks. But finding your debt free date not only gives you a tangible goal to achieve, but also helps to keep yourself accountable for your progress. I had a few setbacks along the way. I had to buy a new, used car and my pay fluctuated a few times when I changed jobs.

But each time a new challenge arose, I met it by reassessing where I was, what my new circumstances were, and adjusted from this new place. One thing that kept me on track was, staying persistent. The closer I came to paying off my high interest debt, the closer I come to saving for my retirement. This is one of the main takeaways of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. The less high interest debt you have, the more prepared you will be for saving for your retirement.

So when you’re finished paying interest on top of the money you owe, you’ll be able to save more money. And invest the money you’re saving later on. That’s why it’s so important to pay off your high interest debt first. To free up your capital for your future. So paying off debt is investing in your future. In that you will be the beneficiary of your hard work. Not a credit card company or bank.

I’ve Paid Off My Debt, What Next?

After you’ve paid off your debt, take a deep breath, and appreciate what you’ve just achieved for yourself and your future. This is a huge step in reaching financial independence. The next step, according to Dave Ramsey, is to set up an emergency fund. This is usually 3 to 6 months pay.

Emergency Fund

Being in debt for so long, I’m opting for the 6 month fund. Feeling financial secure is important to me. Especially since I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for most of my life. It’s also part of the Ramsey baby steps to have a thousand dollar emergency fund while you’re paying down your debt. Just in case something comes up that you haven’t planned for. It’s not much, but when you’re 95k in debt as I was and you suddenly get hit with a five hundred dollar medical bill and you’re living paycheck to paycheck… That emergency fund is the difference between talking the hit in your budget somewhere else, and feeling secure in knowing you can take care of the small problems that come up along the way. Life happens. It’s best to be prepared when it does.

After your emergency fund is set up, now is the time to start looking towards investing for your retirement. The usual routes for this is through either a 401k, traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. The difference between the two accounts are, traditional IRAs are taxed when you take your money out, as opposed to Roth IRAs. With Roths, you are taxed when you put your money in.

401k

A 401k is a retirement account that is usually offered by your employer, and has a relatively low investment risk. You can add up to $20,500 dollars into your 401k annually in 2022 and an extra $6,500 if you’re over the age of 50. Which makes this a good overall option. And if your employer matches your contributions, meaning they put in a percentage of what you pay into your account each year, this is a no-brainer. That’s literally free money! This is a great entry level option.

Roths vs Traditional IRAs

Roths

From what research I’ve done, an important aspect of saving for retirement is the tax advantage you get when you decide to take your money out. If you know you are going to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement. For example, say you will have a lot of passive income such as rental properties, something I’ll be going over later in this article. You may want to be taxed when you put your money into the account. Using a Roth IRA, you will be taxed when you’re rate was lower. Saving you money by paying less in taxes.

Traditional

But if you plan on being in a lower income bracket when you retire, a traditional IRA may be the way to go. This way you’re contribution is taxed when you receive your payments. This also has the advantage of letting your money grow tax free and with compounded interest. So you’ll earn more with your investments. Whichever path you choose, it’s best to have a plan for what your life may look like when you start pulling money out in retirement.

Savings Vehicles

How much should we contribute to our funds once we set them up? Conventional wisdom suggests that we sock away between 15 and 20 percent of our income a year. So depending on what you are making and your savings vehicle, you may have to spread your savings out. Because you are only able to contribute so much to traditional or Roth IRAs.

As of 2021, the limits are 6,000$ for each fund and 7,000$ for those over 50 years of age. And with 6,000$ a year, if you start at age 40, that could translate to a little less that 475,000$ by age 65. That is a huge improvement over receiving social security alone. For a more in-depth look at how IRAs work, check out this article on Investopedia.

But if 6,000$ is less than 20% of your income, your going to need to find ways to diversify your retirement savings. Other vehicles include, mutual funds, money market funds, real-estate or physicals. These are only a few options available. But ones worth looking into.

Mutual and Money Market Funds

These types of funds are considered low risk investments. Mutual funds are a group of securities that are managed by investor professionals. They consist of things such as, stocks, bonds and securities. This vehicle is made possible for the individual by pooling together funds from many investors. As I said above, they are considered low risk. So they are a great way to pad your retirement if you have more than the maximum IRA contribution to squirrel away.

Money market funds are investments in low risk security funds. So they don’t have the highest percent interest payout. But they are solid supplements to your retirement fund. They are however not backed by the FDIC. So it’s best to research funds with a history of promising returns. Slow and steady is the end goal for mutual funds.

Real-Estate

There are a few ways to invest in real-estate. One way is by flipping homes as seen by Chip and Joanna Gains on “Fixer Upper”. But another way, and the one I’ll be talking about, is buying rental properties. With rental properties, you’re able to purchase a home or apartment building and rent out the units. The idea is to use the rent, paid by your tenants, to pay off the house’s mortgage. Then once you’ve paid for you property in full, the rent becomes income. If you’re able to pay off the mortgage before you collect your IRA, you’ll have a consistent stream of income coming in after you finish with your career.

There is a lot to consider though, when taking on a rental property. You’re responsible for the general maintenance and upkeep of the property. For finding tenants to occupying the building and taking care of any issues that may arise. It can be a large responsibility. So it’s worth considering how much time you have to invest if choosing this strategy. But if planned well, it could definitely be beneficial during your retirement years.

Physicals

What I mean by physicals is, gold, silver, copper or platinum. My father was in the jewelry and coin industry. So this is something I’ve heard a lot about growing up. It can be daunting. Looking into investing in something like gold. The average price per ounce of gold, as of this article’s publishing is, around 1,900$ an ounce. With bullion being sold most commonly in ten ounce bars, according to Forbes Adviser, this can end up becoming a costly investment.

Luckily, there are some more accessible ways to invest in gold. Gold coins are one way to squirrel some money away for retirement. The American gold eagle is sold in a half ounce to single ounce coins. And is sold at market value. This is a great way to put up 1,000$ at a time, while also getting you closer to your retirement goals. It’s also worth noting that if you spend over a thousand in physicals, the purchase is tax exempt. So an ounce of gold is the cheapest way to buy into this market.

Start Planning

Here are only a few options if you’re looking into retirement a little late in the game. It may take some time and planning, but it will literally pay off in and for your future. So don’t panic! And don’t give up hope. The way to retirement may seem difficult now. But with some persistence, your efforts will carry you comfortably into your golden years. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Retirement Jar” by aag_photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Updated: 10/28/22

Knowing When to Walk Away: What to do When Your Boundaries are Being Violated

This is a difficult topic, especially for those who have little understanding of what boundaries are. This is a place I know well. And time after time, I would find myself in situations where I, or somebody else, was taking advantage of somebody’s boundaries. If you’ve read my last post on “Do I Know What My Boundaries Are?“, you’ll know I’ve been steeped in an environment void of boundaries.

This post and my last post, were inspired by a place I was recently employed with. The ways in which the employer has been treating his employees is something that, well, inspired this post on self-care in regards to personal boundaries. In this post, I’ll be going over some red flags to look for if you feel your boundaries are being taken advantage of. Also I’ll be talking about what you can do if your boundaries are being encroached upon. I’ll be focusing mostly on the workplace. But these examples can be applied to other contexts as well. So let’s jump in with what to look for.

Red Flags

If you’re not used to being in relationships with healthy boundaries, it can be tricky to see the red flags that pop up when they’re being violated. That said, some are fairly obvious. However, it can be insidious in how subtly some take advantage of others’ boundaries. Some examples of red flags are, emotional blackmail, criticism without constructive feedback, being unwilling to give clear and concise direction while communicating needs and using misinformation to misdirect from the issues that are in question. These tactics aren’t new. But they make for unhealthy relationships and boundary violations. So let’s start by taking a look at emotional blackmail.

Emotional Blackmail

Let me start out by saying that lying, in and of itself, is a clear indication that your boundaries are being taken advantage of. If you, or somebody you work with or for, is in the habit of lying, then attention needs to be given as to why it’s happening. This happened to me most recently at a job I left not too long ago.

I was talked to by the owner of a small bakery I worked in and written up for not mixing the starter on the scheduled time. I had brought this issue to the owners attention. My concern was for the quality of the product, so I was willing to take full responsibility for my mistakes. But where the violation of boundaries took place was, the owner said he was writing me up for the second time I had forgotten to do this task. I don’t remember the first incident and when I asked for the date of the original infraction, he was unable to remember the time.

He was unable to give me any detail as to when the first time it happened was. Though made reference to my mistake often after he claimed I had. He said that I had made more mistakes without documentation and was using it to make me feel that I should be worried for my job security. These are the mechanics of how emotional blackmail works. His goal in lying to me was, to make me feel as though I was on thin ice in regards to my job security. By making reference to it often, he was attempting to capitalize on my feeling as though I’m not worthy of my job title. Or that I should feel lucky to have the job.

Asides from this being a stressful environment to work in, it also is a way to manipulate those who work for you. In order to make you feel as though you are worth less than you actually are. The result? This environment may lead to people working harder, to feel as though they have to make up for feeling deficient. Or in not asking for pay increases for inflation. Or for increased responsibilities. But also, and maybe most importantly, it also leads to resentment.

Resentment in the Work Place

What made this so uncomfortable was, everybody I worked with had something bad to say about the owner. There were an awful lot of hurt and abused feelings among his employees. Nobody was happy where they were and everybody made it plainly clear how they felt. Yet, nobody would sit down and have the tough conversations around why they felt the ways they did. I attempted to, but was met with arrogance. Actually, much in the same ways I used to be when I was younger. It wasn’t unfamiliar, but that didn’t make it any less difficult to bear.

In these situations and from my experience, it’s best to take the high road. Ask a lot of clarifying questions and try not to lose focus on what is at the heart of the situation. In my case, I wasn’t a bad person for making the mistake. It was only a mistake. The mistake, which at worst was an inconvenience. Because in a bakery, you always have a backup starter for this reason. Also, keep focus on the present and leave the past in the past. Unless it is a string of related events. And most importantly, don’t let someone else attempt to define you by the mistakes you’ve made. We’re all only human. And humans make mistakes.

Criticism Without Constructive Feedback

This is difficult for a lot of people. And rightly so. Without constructive feedback, criticism, especially if given often, is just another way to bully someone. It also creates an unclear or unachievable standard. This was also the case with my last employer. The owner was constantly finding fault with the tasks that were being done. And he was very vocal about his opinion.

An example being, there was one woman who had been baking for him for the better part of two decades. Before she worked there, she owned her own bakery in Viet Nam. She was a good baker, actually one of the best bakers I’ve known. And she did her job well. But regardless of her baking prowess, the owner would often criticize her by calling her the “queen of steam”. If you you’re not familiar, you use steam in the baking process by injecting the oven with water to create steam, right before you put the loaves in to bake. The steam gives the crust a shiny look to it, while the crust develops. So the owner was constantly implying that she was too heavy on the steam.

Later when he criticized my bake, I asked him some clarifying questions around what the standard should look like. He gave reference to the woman’s bake I mentioned above. Saying it should look, just like hers. This was confusing. Because the most common comment I heard from him about her bakes, was how they weren’t good enough. Too much steam. So I was left with no direction on what he wanted from me and the feeling of not doing an adequate job. Regardless of how good my bakes looked. And everybody that baked there, was an excellent baker. Including myself. So there was no clear standard of what he expected from us. Only criticism.

Lack of Clear, Concise Direction

This was at the root of a lot of the miscommunication and confusion. Not only with my last place of employment, but many places have communication issues. Information that is important for employees to do their jobs, is sometimes not provided in a timely manner. In these situations, I find it best to pursuing the information. For example, in my last place of employment there was no established line of communication from what the owner wanted, to what was expected of us.

This left us in the uncertain place of not knowing whether or not we were doing right by his vision of what he wanted from us. Or if we were meeting his expectations. We were left in an uncertain purgatory. This led the employees to distrust those in charge. Because without clearly communicating needs, those who need to know are left feeling unsupported. An example of this type of miscommunication was, there would be changes made to the bake last minute. And if the changes weren’t reflected in the bake, do to the changes not being communicated in a timely manner, than the employees would be reprimanded for not implementing the changes.

These unreasonable expectation and lack of support led directly to feelings of resentment on the parts of his employees. There was a high rate of turnover and there was a steady rotation of managers before I took the position. The lack of communication directly led to a lack of feeling supported, which in turn impacted the turnover rate of the owner’s employees. Not to mention the amount of hurt emotions along the way. All of which could have been avoided if there had been clear direction and support.

So the lack of clear communication is an indicator that your boundaries are being infringed on to some degree. It’s best to address these issues when they arise, as well as to set reasonable expectations for what is expected of you from my experience. This way, you’re not left wondering what you’re supposed to be doing. Or feeling unsupported.

Misinformation and Misdirection

This can be an especially difficult boundary violation to navigate. While I was at my last place of employment, as I’ve said above, I was written up for forgetting the starters and then mislead about forgetting it for the second time. In the same write up for mixing the starters late, it was also mentioned that my bakes didn’t meet their standard.

This came as a surprise. I had no prior warning about the quality of my bakes. No one had ever brought this to my attention. There were also only two supervisors present while I was being spoken with, but there were three supervisors on my write-up. One of which I wasn’t aware was my supervisor.

All of these extra additions, to what was a matter of mixing a starter late, had the effect of misdirecting focus from what the actual issue was. I was being written up for mixing the starter late, which turned into being spoken to by three supervisors, as well as the quality of my performance. This is a good example of misdirecting from what the issue is and an encroachment of boundaries.

Ideally, these should have been brought to my attention in separate conversations, as they arose. So when we discuss the matter, it wouldn’t be a surprise. The experience left me uncertain as to what was expected of me. But also wondering, if it was that important, why was it only now being brought to my attention? Especially since I, like most people I believe, want to do the best job they’re able to.

Using fear and misdirection to manipulate a person to work harder because they fear for their job security, leads to feelings of resentment and confusion. Resentment for the feeling of being in an environment where it’s unacceptable to make mistakes. And confusion because the standards are constantly changing. There was no clear way to discuss what the issues actually were. And another example of boundaries being violated. Anytime there are unclear expectations and you are being told that you are not achieving them, this is a violation of boundaries.

What Can We do About It?

With all of these abuses of boundaries taking place, it may be difficult to know what to do or how to act. With your attention being pulled in so many different directions, it can be difficult to know first, how you feel about it while it’s happening. Secondly what you can do about it. For me, it helped to take it slowly. As I said above, I asked a lot of clarifying questions. I gave them the benefit of my doubt and made sure to follow up with those who were the decision makers. I also gave support to those I was able to, who were looking for direction. Some of the following suggestions are easier to do than others, but with some perseverance, it can be done.

Clarifying Questions

As I said above, asking clarifying questions goes a long way into finding out what specific expectations are being asked of you. The more specific, direct and often your questions and communications, the less likely it will be that there are grey areas. Or feelings of uncertainty.

This may be difficult for a few reasons. First, if your supervisor is being evasive, than it can be tough to get a clear and direct answer from them. Second, if you’re shy or don’t like making waves, than asking questions can make you feel as though you are being a burden on those you need clarifying from. And nobody wants to burden the boss.

But this is where it is so important to be persistent. Asking the right questions and knowing precisely what’s expected of you will only help to improve things for everybody. It will also make you stronger in the end. So try to calm your fears and advocate for yourself. Who knows, maybe you’ll receive the guidance you need.

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

This one can be difficult. Mostly because it involves a lot of trust where trust may have been abused. But going into a situation thinking you are going to be taken advantage of, leads to being guarded and unreceptive to change. And the situation may be that the person who is showing the red flags, may be under a fair amount of stress. Life happens. And it’s best to be able to help out those who need it. Instead of being quick to judge them as being neglectful or malicious in their actions.

I’ve also found that it helps to stay positive in these situations. Bringing an attitude of resentment to the issue won’t help to resolve the issue. It also takes a toll on your own well being. And in situations where your boundaries may be being violated, it’s important to take care of your needs and well being.

Following Up

Following up with your concerns and questions are important aspects of getting your needs met. Especially if the issue has been avoided. This shows that you are invested in finding a resolution. But also as important, sending the message that you are going to advocate for yourself and your teams needs.

This also helps to keep those who are in charge accountable. This way, you’re taking care of your own needs by respecting yourself by advocating for your needs, while also sending the message that your needs deserve respect and acknowledgement.

Giving Support

This one is important. Giving Support to those you are able to helps to provide a sense of working to achieve a shared goal. Teamwork. This is especially important when there isn’t support coming from the person in charge of making their vision a reality. As I’ve said above, a lack of support can lead to resentment. And if we don’t support those we work with, we end up resenting one another. In this case, nobody feels supported. And if we can take care of each other along the way, it helps to make everyone feel a little better.

Conclusion

It’s not easy, but if you’ve found yourself in a situation where your boundaries are being violated, these steps may help you to navigate them with some confidence. And if you do everything you’re able to, for example finding appropriate help for mediation, and you still find that you are being taken advantage of, your best bet may be too leave the situation entirely. But give it some serious thought and try not to let your emotions rule your actions.

My motto in my teen and early twenties was, “bridges are for burning”. This was due to feeling hurt by those closest to me. But it was an attitude that left me alone and without any support. Just because someone has taken advantage of you, doesn’t mean that they’re a bad person. Who knows what their history holds. If it is anything like mine and they’ve been hurt in the past, I can relate. But also be open to the idea that people can change. This helps to soften the blow of your boundaries being violated.

That doesn’t mean that you should allow them to be violated, but to take care of your needs by maybe walking away from the situation. And try not to hold anger or resentment towards those who hurt you, while you’re taking care of yourself. If you’re looking for some more information on healthy boundaries, this article from positive psychology goes into more detail with exercises to help build and maintain healthy boundaries. I hope this has helped in some way. As always, peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: Walking Away by Matt Henry photos is licensed under

Updated: 10/27/22

      CC BY 2.0

Living Your Life: School and Career Focused

School and career. These are two subjects I knew absolutely nothing about. This area of my life was in complete disarray, and with zero guidance due to my complete lack of positive role models, any kind, I had quickly made the transition from cute kid in grade school developing normally, to almost a middle school dropout. And there was no shortage of people helping me along the way to achieve as little as possible.

In this post I’ll be going over the experience I had with my education and how I never learned how to find out what my passions are. How I dealt with the lack of role models and stumbled along the way, to me finally coming to an understanding of what career means to me. Also what I’m doing about it now that I’m behind the wheel and steering my life in a direction that works for me. Hopefully if you have similar experiences, you’ll at least know you’re not alone. And hopefully get some helpful pointers along the way. Let’s start at the beginning with my schooling.

School, the Early Years

I hadn’t realized at the time, but my disinterest in school started soon after my trauma I experienced as an eight year-old, around second and third grades. I was doing well until third grade. It was then that I started showing signs of having difficulty learning to read. I had mild dyslexia. Confusing bs for ds, and my overall progress slowed. I overcame the mild learning issues in elementary school, but by the time I got to middle school, I had completely checked out.

I was in a constant state of fear. Everything I had known about feeling safety and belonging with and around other people had flown completely out the window. I was nervous and anxious around other people almost constantly. I hadn’t developed any social skills in my early teen years, so when I hit high school I was modeling myself after Jim Morrison for lack of positive role models.

Wanting to be Liked

I was overcompensating for my fear of connection by being arrogant and aloof like Jim. This was also when I started drinking and smoking cigarettes. My ambition in life was to be seen by others as someone who was cool. That was it. There was no substance or desire for something more. I had no idea that there were greater things to aspire to. My sole focus was to be liked.

This makes me sad now to think about it. I was a cliché in thinking that if I acted a certain way, I would be accepted and liked by others. What I was going through was the awkward social change into adolescence and I had no idea that I was even going through it. But if you don’t feel accepted by your caregivers, then who is there to tell you that you belong? For me it was just doing whatever felt good at the time, with whomever was around me probably making the same poor choices.

I felt a sense of homelessness. And I felt no sense of belonging or what it means to belong in a healthy sense of the term anyway. I spent most of my time with friends, drinking too much and wandering around aimlessly from one good time to the next. I’m surprised I made it out of adolescence relatively unscathed. But in spite of my difficult upbringing, I managed to pull a life together.

Salvaging What I Could

I pulled a life together, but that was in the loose sense of the term. I may have had a place to live, was in a stable relationship and had plans for the future, but I was really just winging it. But I was still trying to avoid feeling the uncomfortable and sometimes traumatic emotions of my past. I also had little to no drive or ambition. And I spent most of my time avoiding living my life by either drinking or playing video games. My future plans felt more like stabs in the dark without anyone to support my efforts. I still had no healthy role models or direction, or even goals to strive towards. I was just drifting. The way I had through my teen years. Only older now and with almost nothing to show for the life I had been avoiding living.

Shifting Emotions

But then something shifted for me. My comfortable and somewhat stagnant life was turned upside-down when I thought I had fallen in love with another woman. Looking back now, I realize I had finally felt heard. But I was only recognizing that the woman who I thought I fell in love with was really a reflection of how I felt. Like Justin Timberlake’s song, “Mirror”. She was my “mirror”, allowing myself to finally see what I was feeling. What I was covering over for so long with alcohol and anger. The small, vulnerable child that was still waiting to be heard.

I ended up quitting drinking while I was with her and that helped a great deal towards bringing some order to my chaotic emotional world. But this is also where I made some poor choices. Leaving the life I had and could have worked on, for the life I would eventually realized I was outgrowing.

Shifting Focus

I split up with the woman who had helped me wake up emotionally shortly after we got together. This was for the best and helped me to find the trajectory of, and focus in, my life. During the time I was adrift, I had started school for social work. I eventually switched to architecture, then to journalism. I had no idea what to do with any of my schooling, but felt as though I needed to go regardless of my aimless amblings.

While I was getting my life back together, I finished my degree. This time as an English major and the only take away from my college education was how to write a blog : ) But even after I finished my undergrad degree, I was still adrift. With no direction for how my future was going to unfold. Still unsatisfied with my employment prospects and jobs, I decided that something needed to change. But again, with no direction or role models, I was in the same place as I was when I was just winging it. So, I did what I knew. For me this was baking, running, yoga, writing this blog and journaling. Also building up and nurturing my relationships while paying off my debt.

Finding Focus

This may seem like a mish-mash of areas all jumbled together, but what I came to realize was that while I was cobbling together the pieces of my life that had been adrift, I began to find greater focus in all areas of my life. I’ve been baking professionally for about 15 years, off and on throughout my career. I’ve come to enjoy the process of baking. I’m good at it and it’s something that’s been a constant in my life. But I know now that I don’t want baking to be my career.

Baking

I have however, learned how to hone a craft through baking. As I’ve said above, I’m pretty good at it. Which is no surprise considering how long I’ve been doing it for. But I also have been able to recognize how I’ve build my craft and how it’s progressed over the years. I can tell things about dough just by looking at it or touching it. And have a wealth of knowledge to work from, in my personal and professional experiences. But I’ve also come to realize that baking is not my end goal. It’s something I’m grateful I’ve learned, but also something I’ll be able to part with when the time comes.

Workout

Running and yoga have helped me to manage my physical being. I’ve gone through some considerable changes regarding my weight, physical appearance and overall health thanks to these healthy habits. They’ve also taught me something about dedication. About getting out on the road and pounding out those three miles. Even when the temperature is in the low nineties and the humidity is 90%. Or finding your balance when you flow through your vinyasa from forward fold to down dog and bring your right foot up to high lunge. When you do them consistently, you build more than just physical strength. You’re building resilience. This can translate to all areas of your life. You have that extra surge of energy that helps you to get up and do the dishes. Or to get moving at 5am before you’ve had your first cup of tea or coffee.

Writing

Writing has been essential in finding and maintaining focus for me as well. First with bullet journaling. Something I’ve mentioned before on this blog. Journaling has been a way for me to map out and organize what I have in my head and put it on paper or a screen. This way I can give myself some distance from my thoughts. Then find out what the steps are that need to be done to curate some order for the tasks and make a plan to do them.

And the same is true for this blog. Through this blog, I’ve come to understand where my interests lie and how they come together to give me a sense of who I’ve become and of who I want to be. The parts of my life, the personal experiences and how they’ve come to shape the ways I see things and who I’m becoming. These have all given me some focus and direction as to where I want to put my efforts and energies. Environmental issues and helping those that have been in similar situations as myself being two of my passions that I’d like to turn into a career.

Relationships

Building and nurturing my close relationships has given me a great deal of perspective on how I want to be living my life. Before, relationships were something to be feared. I was unaware of where I stood in my relationships with others. Always keeping them at a distance or numbing my feelings so I wouldn’t feel the pain of being rejected by them. Rejection being something I was all too familiar with growing up.

Now, relationships are sources of comfort, strength and happiness for me. I feel more secure in relationship now. And now that I know that it’s possible to make the shift from numb and alone, to supported and loved, I want to help others find their path to their connectedness. When I was going to school for social work, I also worked at a residential program for at risk adolescence. This was difficult work. But it also gave me the opportunity to help others whom were in a similar situation as I was.

I’ve recently picked up a second job at a family shelter. The shelter has elements that reminds me of the adolescence residential. Though with much less unchecked emotions. This has given me a chance to help pay down my student loans, but also to realign myself with the types of work I want to be doing in my career. Helping people bring their lives back together after what seems like such a hopeless situation, being homeless. It’s in these moments, of not being the change as the saying goes, but being a part of the support that helps them to change their situation, that makes me feel like I’m helping. By being a part of the solution.

Other Types of Inspiration

Paying down student loans has been a huge source of inspiration for me in finding my focus as well. While paying off debt, I started out with my credit cards and moved on to my largest debt, student loans. I took out loans during the height of the lending frenzy. I was taking out loans for cash to buy things I really didn’t need. Finance was an area I had no role modeling for, to show me how to manage my money. Or to show me how to responsibly take out loans to pay for my education. I was racking up credit card debt at the same time I was taking out student loans. Looking back, it’s crazy to think of the financial mess I was creating in my life! About 130K worth of mess.

Paying Back Loans to Bring Financial Stability to My Life

But once I was on the trajectory to change my life for the better, debt also became an area of focus for me. Paying off my debt has shown me, first and most importantly, how to budget. And secondly, also how to live inside of my means. When I was living on borrowed money I had no restraint. I bought and did whatever I felt like, when the mood struck.

Now that I’m learning how to put my financial house in order, I’m understanding the importance of planning for my future. In planning for retirement, planning for vacations or hobbies, and how caring for my financial situation is a way of caring for my needs.

I’ve also learned how NOT to take out debt. So when the time comes around for me to pursue a master’s in social work, I’ll be aware of how I budget and manage my money, and make a plan that won’t end up with me being tens of thousands of dollars in debt. My time is now more valuable to me than picking up a second job to pay back the money I was borrowing unsustainably in my youth. I know I won’t be going blindly down that road again.

Bringing Them All Together

These are the areas of my life that helped to give me the direction I needed to learn how to move forward with and in my career focus. Each element had its own piece of wisdom to impart. With baking, it was how to recognize when I’m growing in something, or what it looks like to be good at something while still learning from others along the way. With running and yoga, I was learning how to stay dedicated to a practice, but also enjoy that practice in the process. Enjoy the work. With writing, I was learning how to organize my time and thoughts, and also how to convey them in a way that makes sense to myself and others. And also my love for the natural world and my growing concern for the environment. Also to help process and put a structure to my story. In my relationships in that I want to grow along with and nurture these places and people in my life. But also in recognizing that you can make the switch from feeling hurt and alone to loved and supported. And with paying back my student loans in showing me how to budget for the future in a practical sense of the term.

It was when all these areas came together, that I was able to see how the different aspects of my personality made sense to me in the bigger picture. And it wasn’t easy. But what I found out was, that I care about those neglected areas. I like seeing things be brought back to life after struggle, abuse and neglect. We all go through it to some extent. Some of us more so than others. But hopefully, we all come to our own understanding of the different aspects of our life and how they’ve been neglected. Sometimes what we need to do is take a step back and look at the different aspects in your life. From there we can make a plan by putting together the different facets of our personalities and in so doing, give our selves some much needed direction. And that’s where my career is headed. By helping others find their path.

Because I see this play out all too often. So many of those close to me have been neglected to the point of not even knowing where to begin. I feel that everybody deserves the right to feel their passion. To do and be connected to work that is greater than them. It doesn’t have to be larger than life. Just enough to feel like you’re making a difference. That’s what this blog is about for me. And with any luck, this will be the focus of my career.

Final Thoughts

In case you haven’t been told, I’m here to tell you that if you’ve found yourself in a place where you are lacking in direction, don’t give up hope! Take a look at the things you’ve been doing, listening to, or watching. What have you been interested in lately. If you’re lucky, you may realize that you’ve been leaving yourself clues all along that will lead you in the direction of your passions. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Commute” by JanneM is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 10/21/22

Self Acceptance: Accepting Where you Are to Get to Where You’d Like to Be

Self acceptance is difficult. This is a subject I know something about. I’m a baker now and I have been for a while. But I’ve gone to school for a variety of different occupations. I began my college career as a social worker. After social work, I tried my hand at design and went to architecture school. Then when I found out that architects worked an 80 hour weeks, I decided to try my hand at writing.

Finding Your Way

So I earned my degree in English, with a communications minor. The plan was to write for a newspaper. I hadn’t given the idea a lot of thought, otherwise I may have looked around and realized that that wasn’t the most stable career choice. With newspapers becoming part of a bygone era. When I graduated, I didn’t have a backup plan for what I’d do if my career of choice didn’t pan out.

In my defense, I didn’t have a lot of guidance. None actually. I was taking stabs in the dark at what I thought might bring me a sense of satisfaction. I realize now a lot of the choices I made were ways of keeping me locked in a trauma cycle. Reliving parts of my past. But I still needed to find out how I was going to pay back the federal government for supporting me through my extended college years. And I had racked up quite the debt.

Doing What’s Easy Isn’t Always the Best Career Path

So I baked. It was easy because I was already doing it, and I was pretty good at it considering I had fallen into the job. Why I’m writing about it now is, that I’ve been thinking about what I’ll be doing in the next five years. And where I’d like to be in my career in the future.

I enjoy some aspects of baking. For example when you have a good bake and the ears (those pockets of dough that rise up on a loaf of bread), leaving an elegant envelope of smartly creased crust is satisfying. Seeing them all in a row, lined up down the length of the oven in a symmetrical pattern. That is a good feeling.

Ears on loaves of sourdough I baked

But there are some aspects of the job that aren’t so pleasant as well. For instance, my Serve Safe certificate that I had to recertify. In the online course I took, I never heard the term, fecal-oral route, used so many times in 8 hours. Then I was tested on it!

Switching Gears to Find a Fulfilling Career

It’s situations like these that are the drive behind my wanting to change careers. And it’s not that I’m avoiding self acceptance and where I’m at. I just don’t have the memories associated with baking that, I imagine most people do. The one that make them want to bake in the first place. I never watched my grandmother lovingly labor over baked goods. My grandmother was more the type to slam your thumb in the car door of an old Buick Regal at the tender age of 5. No bueno.

Which brings me to my most current iteration of my career outlook. I’m planning on going back for social work. I know the pitfalls of growing up in a family that is unstable at best. I feel as though I may have some wisdom to impart and the ability to tolerate horrific stories more than most. But to make it from bread baker to social worker, it’s going to take some maneuvering.

Self Acceptance is Accepting your Circumstances

When I was getting recertified for the serve safe certificate, I had to take an eight hour long course before taking the test. I found myself getting a little restless. As though I deserved to be elsewhere. Instead of stuck in front of a computer screen relearning what I already knew. I should be doing work that matters. But instead I heard the term, “fecal oral route” more times than I could count. And I just wanted to be done with the whole experience. Not just the test, but the early, cold mornings, the stressful environment, not getting any holidays off save for Christmas day, all of it. I was a little grumpy and definitely not in a frame of mind of self acceptance.

Then I took the test and got in the 95% and crossed the task off my todo list. I told the GM I would give him a link to the site so we could get other employees trained. And also got reimbursed for the price of the course. In short, I took care of myself. I took stock of the small accomplishments I achieved along the way. And I helped a few people in the process. It felt good to know that I could count on myself and achieve my goals, no matter how small they may seem.

Understanding Where You Are

Because it’s in these moments of understanding where you are and what you can do to make it better that brings you to a place of self acceptance. Of what needs to be done to move yourself forward. And that we build accountability to ourselves. Knowing that WE are the resource that is going to get us to where we want to be.

I could have kept putting off taking the exam. But knowing that I will take care of business, no matter how unpleasant the task may seem, moving forward by accepting where I am and pushing through, makes me feel as though I’m capable of achieving greater things. And I feel that it’s this mind set that ultimately will guide us to the places we’d like to be and self acceptance. Also while navigating through the here and now.

Making a Plan to Move Forward by Accepting Where You are

This may seem common sense to most. And honestly, I hope this is the case. But I’ve seen to many friends and loved ones stall in their lives because they had no one model the mindset of self acceptance and accepting where they were by using wise discernment. To devise a course of action and follow through with the plan.

God knows the role-models I had all complained about how so and so was doing them wrong. Or how unfair life is rather than practicing some self acceptance and taking accountability for their situation. That said, when you’ve experienced abuse it’s difficult to navigate the waters of accountability. And being in that category I have empathy for those making an honest go of moving forward. Regardless of how difficult it gets. And it gets weird at times. That’s for sure!

Wishing Things Were Different Make You Lose Sight Of Where You Are

And if you’re constantly wishing things were different and not accepting where you’re at, you may miss out on some of the tender moments along the way. I used to bake in Salem MA, so every Halloween there would be swarms of people descending on the city. My shift was the 3-11pm bake shift. At the end of my day I’d be sitting in the bakery waiting for my loaves to finish in the oven. Usually with the door cracked open to let the crisp autumn air in along with the sounds of merriment from the festivities happening around the city.

Drunk people would stumble by, asking for bread, make-up smeared in unintended ways while struggling with gravity. It was nice. If I stopped to think about how I didn’t want to be there in the first place or all the negative things that happened during the day, I may have missed those relaxing moments. Or how good my bake looked.

Self Acceptance, Never Give Up on Your Dreams

So Self acceptance is really another way of saying, never give up on your dreams. No matter how crazy they may seem. Because it’s when you accept where you’re at, that you’re able to organize your situation, make a plan to get out of it and move forward with your plans. But don’t forget to make room for the present while you’re chasing after your future goals. Because that’s where life is ultimately lived.

Self acceptance and accepting where you are leads to accountability, which leads to trust, which leads to ease, which leads to living in the present. Long story short, pay attention to your surroundings while you’re on your way and you may have some good stories to tell. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

For more on the topic of self acceptance, check out these articles:

Knowing What Support Looks Like

Self Worth is Not Determined by How Much You Do for Other

Image Credits: “Winding Path Draped in Mist” by Moose Winans is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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