I’m 40, In Debt, and 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 down some debt that I accrued in my early to late twenties in the form of credit cards and student loans. I’ve recently paid off my credit cards, and have been going pretty hard on my student loans. I’ve been following the Dave Ramsey “Baby Steps” to pay down my debt, and have been really 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 a specialist 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.

Along with paying down my credit card debt, I’ve learned how to write and follow a budget, while also learning how to care for my financial needs. I have some money in savings for the first time in my life and am making some serious progress on my student loan debt. I’ve been so excited making so much progress on paying down my debt, that I completely overlooked that I’ll be paying into retirement a little bit later than most people usually start. This has me a little worried about what my future is going to look like for sure. So I started doing some research on the subject, but 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 knew not how to care 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 realize that I could accept only what I needed from the loans, and not the entire sum. But the way I was living, I don’t think I would have chose differently had I known.

I was accumulating so much debt, that I could almost have bought a small house in Western Massachusetts with the amount of loans and credit card debt I had. But I kept spending. And 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 Down My Debt Now, But What Do I Do About My Future?

I’m about 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 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.

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, and it’s important to stay fluid while you go over your numbers. 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 you accountable for your progress. For me, I had a few setbacks. I had to buy a new 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 there. The one thing that kept me on track was staying persistent. And the closer I came to paying down my high interest debt, the closer I’ve 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 more later on. That’s why it’s so important to pay down your high interest debt first, to free up your capital for your future. So in a way, paying down debt is kind of like 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 Down My Debt, What Next?

After you’ve paid down 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 your financial independence. The next step, according to Dave Ramsey, is to set up an emergency fund. This is usually 3 to 6 months pay.

Being in debt for so long, I’m opting for the 6 month fund. Feeling financial secure is important to me, especially if you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for most of your working life as I had. 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 like 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, best to be prepared when it does.

After your emergency fund is set up, now it’s time to start looking towards investing for your retirement. The usual routes for this is through 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 Roths, where you are taxed when you put your money in.

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 in retirement, 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 have been 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 a traditional or Roth IRA.

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 indepth look at how IRAs work, check out this article on investopedia that covers the essentials.

But if 6,000$ is less than 20% of your income, your going to need to find ways to diversify your retirement savings. This could be in funds, such as mutual funds, money market funds, real-estate or physicals. These are only a few options available but 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, by 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 have the rent paid by your tenants, used to pay off the 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 in this strategy. But if done right, 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 as a half ounce to an ounce, 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.

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

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

This is a difficult topic, especially for those who have very little understanding of what boundaries are. This is a place I knew well, and time after time I would find myself in situations where I, or somebody else was taking advantage of personal boundaries. If you’ve read my last post on “shoring up your personal boundaries“, you’ll know I’ve been in some pretty iffy situations.

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

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 your boundaries are being violated. Some are fairly obvious. But it can be insidious in how subtly some use them to take advantage of others. Some examples 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 need focusing on. These tactics aren’t new, but they make unhealthy relationships. So let’s jump in with 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 not telling the truth, then some serious attention needs to be given to what the circumstances are and why it’s happening. This happened to me most recently at a job I left not so long ago.

I was talked to by the owner of the small bakery I worked in, at the time, and written up for not mixing the starter on the scheduled time. This was something that I had brought to the owners attention, as 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 was clearly being lied to, and when I pressed 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 said I had. He was saying that I had done more than what was actually done and was using it to make me feel as though I should be concerned about my job security. This is where emotional blackmail comes into the equation. It seemed as though, from my perspective, that 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, bakery manager at the time, or that I should be lucky at all to have a job.

Asides from this being a stressful environment to work in, it also is a way to manipulate those who work for you, to feel as though you are worth less than you actually are. This may lead to people working harder to feel as though they have to make up for feeling deficient in some way. Not asking for pay increases for standard of living or increased responsibilities. But most importantly, it also leads to resentment.

Everybody I worked with had something bad to say about the owner. There were an awful lot of hurt and abused feelings. 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. I attempted, but was met with arrogance, actually much in the same ways I used to act. It wasn’t unfamiliar, but that didn’t make it any less difficult to bear.

In these situations, 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 a mistake, it was only a mistake. Keep focus on the present and leave the past in the past. 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 Feedback

Criticism without constructive feedback. This is a tough one for a lot of people, and rightly so. Without constructive feedback, criticism, especially if given often, is just another way to bully someone and create an unclear and unachievable standard. This was the case with my last employer. The owner was constantly finding fault with everything that everybody was doing, while being vocal about his opinions to everybody.

For example, there was one woman who I baked with who had been baking there for the better part of two decades. Before she worked there, she owned her own bakery. She was a good baker, and did her job well. But regardless of her baking prowess, the owner would often criticise her by calling her the “queen of steam”. If you don’t know, 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 developing the crust. 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 like hers. This was confusing because all I’ve ever heard him say about her bakes was how they weren’t good enough. So I was left with no direction on what he wanted from me, and only the feeling of not doing an adequate job, regardless of how good my bakes looked. And everyone that worked there that baked was an excellent baker, including myself. So there was no clear standard of what he expected from us. Only criticism.

Lack of Clear and Concise Direction

This was at the root of a lot of the miscommunication and confusion at my last place of employment. Information that was important for us to do our jobs in a timely manner was not provided. And there was no lack of us pursuing this information. It just wasn’t provided. For whatever reason, there was never any direct line of communication from what the owner wanted, and what we were supposed to do.

This also left us in the uncertain place of not knowing if we were doing the right thing. Or if we were ever meeting the expectations of the owner. We were always left in the uncertain purgatory of not knowing. This also breed a sense of distrust with those in charge. Without clear communication of needs, there was a lack of trust and we were left feeling unsupported. There would be changes made last minute and if the changes weren’t made, usually do to the needs not being communicated in a timely manner, than people would be reprimanded for not doing what was asked.

This lack of support also led to resentment on the part of the employees. There was an incredibly high rate of turnover, compared to other places I’ve been employed. There was a consistent rotation of managers before me and the one I took over for, left from the frustrations I’ve mentioned above. The lack of communication directly led to a lack of feeling supported which directly impacted the turnover rate of employees. Not to mention the amount of hurt feelings and emotions that were taken advantage of. All of which could have been avoided if there had been clear direction and support.

Misinformation and Misdirection

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

This came as a surprise, as I had no prior warning about the quality of my bakes. No body had ever brought to my attention that my bakes looked off in any way for the entire time I had worked there. There were also only two people 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 “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 and the quality of my performance was being brought into question.

These should have been brought to my attention in separate conversations and also when they happened, not by surprise and in conjunction with one another. The experience left me uncertain as to what was expected of me, but also wondering, if it was so important, why was it being brought up so late? 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.

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 happening, and second what to do about it. For me, it helped to take it slowly. As I said above, I asked a lot of clarifying questions, gave them the benefit of my doubt and made sure to follow up with those who were the decision makers and give support to those I was able to who were looking for direction. Some are easier to do than others, but with some perseverance, it can be done.

Clarifying Questions

As I said above, clarifying questions goes so far 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. And 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.

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

This one is tricky, because it involves a lot of trust where trust may have been abused in the past. 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 some of 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 too quick to judge them as being neglectful or malicious in their actions.

It also helps to stay positive in these situations. Bringing an attitude of resentment to the issue won’t help to resolve the problem. 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 still important aspects of meeting your needs, especially if you’re being avoided. This shows that you are invested in finding a resolution, but more importantly, 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 for their actions or inactions. This way, you’re taking care of your own needs by respecting yourself enough to advocate for your needs while also sending the message that you deserve respect and acknowledgement of your needs.

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 where it should be coming from. As I’ve said above, a lack of support leads to resentment. And if we pass the buck along to those we work with, we only end up resenting one another. In this case, nobody feels taken care of. 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 always easy, but if you’ve found yourself in a situation where your boundaries are being violated these steps should help you to navigate them with some confidence. And if you do everything you’re able to, and you still find that you are being taken advantage of, your best bet may be too leave the situation entirely. It’s what I did with my situation and it worked out for the best. 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, and if it is anything like mine, I can relate. But also, being open to the idea that people can change, 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, maybe by walking away from the situation, but not holding any anger or resentment towards those who hurt you while taking care of yourself.

I hope this has helped in some way. As always, peace : ) and thanks for reading.

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

      CC BY 2.0

Living Your Life: School and Career Focused

School and work. 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, how I stumbled along the way, to me finally coming to an understanding of what career means to me and 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’ve experienced any of what I have, you’ll at least know you’re not alone and maybe get some helpful pointers along the way. Let’s start at the beginning of my schooling.

I hadn’t realized at the time, but my disinterest in school started soon after the trauma I experienced, which was between second and third grade. I was doing well until third grade, and 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 when it came 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 others had flown completely out the window. I was nervous and anxious around people almost constantly. I hadn’t developed any social skills in my early teen years and when I hit high school, I was modeling myself after Jim Morrison. I was overcompensating for my fear of connection by being arrogant and aloof like Jim and this is 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, and I had no idea that these things mattered or even existed. My end goal was to be liked.

This makes me sad now to think about it. I was totally cliche in thinking that if I acted a certain way, I would be accepted and liked by others. It was that simple, what I was going through, and I had no idea that I was even going through it. But of course, 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 really felt a sense of homelessness, with no sense of belonging or what it means to belong in a healthy sense of the term. I spent most of my time with friends, drinking way too much alcohol and wandering around aimlessly from one good time to the next. I’m surprised I made it out of adulescentes relatively unscathed. But I did, and I managed to pull a life together too in spite of the adversity I encountered along the way. Though at the time I hadn’t realized how lucky I truly was until I had sabotaged myself.

I say I had 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 and 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 spent most of my time avoiding living my life by either drinking or playing video games or both. My future plans felt more like stabs in the dark with nothing to back my efforts and I still had no healthy role models or direction to achieve my goals. 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.

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 as though I could feel heard from all that I had been keeping inside. 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 that Justin Timberlake song, “Mirror”. She was my “mirror”, allowing myself to finally feel 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 the woman I thought I loved and it helped a great deal towards bringing some order to my chaotic emotional world. But this is also where I had sabotaged myself, leaving the life I had, and could have worked on for the image of the life I eventually realized I was outgrowing.

We had split up shortly after we got together, for the best, but I continued on the trajectory of finding greater focus in my life. During the time I had been drifting through life, I had started school for social work, switched to architecture school, then to journalism. I had no idea what to do with any of this schooling, but felt as though I needed to go. 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 🙂 So I had something to work with.

But even after I finished my undergrad, I was still a drift 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, building up and nurturing my relationships and paying off debt.

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

I have, however, learned how to hone a craft. As I’ve said above, I’m pretty good at baking, 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 changed over the years. I can tell things about dough just by looking at it or touching it, and have a large index of knowledge to work from, in my personal and professional life. 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.

Running and yoga have helped me to manage my physical self. 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 high. Or finding your balance when you flow through your vinyasa 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 in 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 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, find out what the steps are that need to be done, 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, has 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 a few of my passions that are on my list.

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 persistently 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. 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, that has elements that reminds me of the adolescence residential, but with much less unchecked emotions. This has given me a chance to help pay down some student loans, but also to realign myself with the types of work I want to be doing. Helping people bring their lives back together after what seems like such a hopeless situation, that of being homeless. It’s in these moments, of not so much being the change, 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 it.

Paying down student loans has been a huge source of inspiration for me in finding my focus as well. I started out paying down credit cards, but eventually moved on to the largest one, student loans. I took out loans during the height of the lending frenzy that was happening. I was taking out loans for cash I didn’t need, to buy things I really didn’t need. And again, this was a place I had no role modeling to show me how to manage money first of all, and second 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!

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, but secondly also how to live inside of a budget. 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 the future, in planning for retirement, planning for down time, like vacations or hobbies, and how caring for my financial situation is in a way, 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.

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 life. 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 the 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 we all come to our own understanding of what it means to have different aspects of our life feel neglected, without focus. Sometimes what we really need to do is take a step back and look at the different aspects in your life, to find out what makes you tick, and give yourself some much needed direction. That’s where my work lay. In heling others find that path.

I see it often too. So many of those close into me have been neglected to the point of not even knowing where to begin. And this is a difficult place to be. I feel that everybody deserves the right to feel a 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, and hopefully soon, what the focus of my career will be.

So I’m here to tell you, 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 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

Where We are, Where We Want to Be: Accepting Your Current Circumstance May Help Get You to Where You’d Like to Be

I’m a baker. I have been for a while now. But I started schooling for a variety of different occupations. I began my college career as an aspiring social worker. After social work, I tried my hand at design and went to architecture school for a semester. Then when I heard that architects worked an 80 hour work week, I decided to try my hand at writing, and earned my degree in English with a communications minor. The plan was to become a newspaper writer. I hadn’t given the idea a lot of thought, otherwise I may have looked around and realized that maybe 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 that’s another story for another time. I still needed to find out how I was going to pay back the federal government for supporting me through my extended college years!

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. What got me thinking about it 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 and also that I had to recertify for my “serve safe” certificate. I enjoy some aspects of baking, for example when you have a good bake, and the ears, those pockets of dough that rise up during the bake, leaving almost and elegant envelope of smartly creased crust, pop up all in a row down the length of the oven in a symmetrical pattern, it’s a good feeling.

But there are some aspects of the job that aren’t so pleasant as well. For instance, the Serve Safe certificate 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!

It’s situations like these that are the drive behind my wanting to change careers. And it’s not that I’m squeamish. I just don’t have the memories associated with baking that, I imagine most people do. 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.

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.

When I was getting recertified for the serve safe certificate, I had to take an eight hour long course before I could take the test. I found myself getting a little restless. As though I deserved to be elsewhere, instead of stuck in front of a computer. 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.

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

Because it’s in these moments, of understanding where you are, and what needs to be done to move yourself forward, 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, and move 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, while navigating through the here and now.

This may seem common sense to most, and I honestly hope this is the case. But I’ve seen to many friends, people, loved ones, stall in their lives because they had no one model the mindset of 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 take some accountability for it (life). That said, when we’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!

And it may seem a little cheesy, but if you’re constantly wishing things were different, 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, so at the end of the day, I’d be sitting in the bakery waiting for my loaves to finish in the oven, 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.

Never give up on your dreams, no matter how crazy they may seem, but don’t forget to make room for the present while you’re chasing after your goals, because that’s where life is ultimately lived. Accepting where you are leads to accountability, leads to trust, 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 :]

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

Self Care: Taking Care of Your Professional Needs

For some, careers come naturally. From an early age, some may know what they would like to do and pursue that interest. Others may take a little longer to find where their passions lie. Maybe they read an article that sparked an interest and a desire to understand more. Others may have admired a role model or someone who exemplified the spirit of who they wanted to become. Others may not have been so lucky.

If you were like me you had no idea what you wanted to be and no one around to tell you how important it is to find fulfilling work. I was talking to a friend recently and she summed up what it was like for both of us growing up. She said she had no problem going to college, but there was a turnoff on the career path that wasn’t clearly marked. Showing her how to convert what is interesting to her and to borrow a sentiment from Marie Condo, what “sparked joy” into a fulfilling career.

This isn’t a new story for sure. That’s why popular phrases such as, “that’s why it’s called work” or something another friend of mine’s wife said to him, “you act as though your the first person to not enjoy their job” are prevalent. These may be true statements and there are aspects of every job that may be less than palatable for those doing them. But what about finding meaning in the work we’re doing. Or at least getting behind the values or moral compass of the company we work for. Shouldn’t that make our work, regardless of how tedious some tasks may be, more fulfilling?

I would argue yes. To use an extreme example to illustrate my point, if I worked for a company that was knowingly destroying the environment I would feel less satisfied than if I worked at a place where all our single use disposables were compostable. Now we all have our own standards by which we judge fulfillment, but there is a common thread. And that is a sense of joy and even pride in our contribution to something larger.

If we’re left in the category of, I don’t know what I want to do and I don’t know how to get there, then there are a few things you can do to help find your path. For starters we can ask ourselves what our values are. There are tests out there that can help with this aspect. Carl Jung’s personality type test is a good place to begin. It starts by breaking down your tendencies and illustrates the patterns you are most likely to fall into by placing you in four of eight categories. If you’re not familiar with them they are, introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuition, feeling/thinking and judgement/perception. There are 16 possible combinations and it’s best to not read them until after you take the test. There are a number of places online where you can take the test and for free as well.

Then there’s the enneagram test. This test shows you which archetype you most resemble. Some examples of archetypes you could be classified as are, lover, thinker, leader, reformer… There are also free resources online for this test as well. I’m not as familiar with this one but it seems to help some people so it’s worth looking into if you’re starting from scratch.

These tests can be helpful to finding your values but they are just aids for self discovery. These test methods have devoted followers and can be somewhat polarizing. Don’t forget that no one test should be able to define who you are or what your values. It’s worth remembering that even though you may fall into a certain type you may very much connect with, in some way you are all aspects of each type.

Now let’s say you have a career you are passionate about and find joy and fulfillment from. Do you know how much you should be compensated for the work you do? Often times people don’t know what they should be asking for when it comes to pay and benefits. Or that this area is even negotiable.

It took me a long time to understand that the experience I have is worth something to my employer. I was always taught that I should just be grateful that I have a job and to work as hard as possible. Sacrificing myself and time for the people I worked for regardless of how they treated me. I was taught that loyalty was most important and self sacrifice was a given.

This type of dedication isn’t inherently bad. There’s a lot to be said for someone’s character who holds these values close. It’s when these values are taken for granted and expected as given while being taken advantage of by either abuse of time or compensation. If you don’t know how you should be compensated there’s a good chance that your employer does and may be willing to take advantage of your ignorance.

That being said there are a lot of fair employers out there. But it’s best to be prepared and not leave something this valuable up to chance. And even with a fair employer, I’ve worked many a place where someone held some resentment for the sacrifices they weren’t asked to make because of the unfair standard they held themselves up against. These situations are all too common and can be avoided by setting healthy work boundaries. Unfortunately this is something that is uncommon and something not everyone is taught to do. There are websites such as Salary.com and PayScale, where you can determine what your rate of pay should be. And hopefully avoid situations like these altogether.

And don’t forget to take some time to yourself. Take a long weekend, go visit a friend or a place you enjoy. Or discover a new city. Take in the sights and enjoying a relaxing dinner. Don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labor and develop your personal likes and interests. No matter how much fulfillment you get from your work, if you don’t balance it with some time to yourself you can become drained and one dimensional.

Hopefully, with the right attitude and drive, you will be doing the work that brings you joy and you will be compensated fairly for your time and experience in setting healthy boundaries for yourself by being honest with how much you are able to give, and when to take time for yourself.

“Notabli Offices” by brettchalupa is licensed under CC BY 2.0