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

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

Childhood’s What Makes You

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

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

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

Living Under Unachievable Expectations

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

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

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

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

Waking Up From The Unachievable

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

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

Learning to Forgive and Accept What Is

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

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

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

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

Real Recognize Real, Or, Stellar Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening to Feel Heard

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

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

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

Giving Love to Feel Enough

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

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

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

Making Friends With Your Fear

Fear is something I have plenty of, and I know I’m not alone. It comes in many different forms as well. Depending on the situation, it can range from fear for your physical security, food insecurities, living situation… The list goes on. But regardless of the source, the feelings are still the same.

It’s difficult to handle, and most of us, including myself, spend a lot of time running from it. I’ll go into a few of my fears and how I’ve run in the past, but also how I’m now learning to face my fears and become stronger for it. It’s no easy sometimes, that’s for sure. But it gets easier the more you stay in the feelings. Let’s take a look at some of the ways I used to run from my fears. Maybe you’ll see some similarities with yourself and find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

The Fear And Why I Ran From It

For me, the fear is a sense that no matter what happens, I’m not going to be okay. The worry sets in and I think about the terrible consequences of whatever I’m worried about taking up residency. The result is not ideal and it also makes regular visits. For me, it can feel like a consistent fixture in my emotional life.

If the fear itself wasn’t bad enough, I would also worry about when the fear was going to return. This cycle would replay itself, creating fear upon fear. I’d become fearful, the fear subsided, then I get anxious about feeling that fear again. And when all the fear and anxiety became too much, I ran from it.

I would use a myriad of methods to avoid the fear. Alcohol and pornography being my two main methods, but distractions such as T.V. were another way to avoid my emotional experience. Anyway I could numb out the discomfort I would give a try.

But this never really worked for me. The fear and anxiety would consistently return. Like an old friend, I knew it’s embrace all too well. Or enough to know that I needed to pick up a drink and numb out the feelings that were too much to handle. I was drinking coffee and taking Adderall to speed past the feelings of anxiety and drinking alcohol and taking muscle relaxers to numb out the feelings I was speeding away from in the mornings. It was exhausting.

And most of my running was due to me feeling abandoned. I was left and abandoned by everybody that was close to me from a very early age. My entire family and a good portion of my friends, all my best friends and every would-be role model, all vanished like it was magic.

I would later learn to detach from others before they got too close to me, to save myself from the pain of yet another abandonment. This was no bueno. But this way of detaching left me feeling even more lonely and still more abandoned. So by the time my marriage dissolved and the woman I thought I loved abandoned me, I knew something had to change.

Staying With The Fear

There’s a Mark Twain quote that I’ve always loved and it’s something that I remember in times when I’m caught up in the feelings of fear. It goes, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” This reminds me that the fear is normal. It’s okay for it to be here, only I shouldn’t let the fear control my actions.

Tara Brach has a talk about dealing with the fear in a direct way. Her method is, attend and befriend, and it’s something that has been helpful for me in my journey on healing from past traumatic events. Her message is essentially, that fear is an emotion that’s trying to tell us something. Usually about how we’re currently in danger in some way.

For me, and I’m sure for a lot of us, the traumatic or painful events that have formed our fears, reshape themselves in current and similar situations to try to keep us safe. Only there is no longer a need to feel fearful in our current situation, because those old events are no longer happening.

For example my fear sometimes comes in the form of connecting with others. This was a way for me to remind myself that other people have been historically unsafe to get close to because they will end up abusing me in some way. But this isn’t true anymore. Or at least I’m able to keep myself safe now if someone does hurt me or tries to abuse me again.

Keeping Ourselves Safe

This was a big task for me, and an important skill to learn especially because I was never taught how and abused by those who were supposed to teach me. I was feeling pretty unsafe a good portion of the time, especially around those closet to me. So I needed to learn how to feel at ease around others, or I was going to end up leading a very isolated existence.

Learning to Trust

I had to first learn that other people are trust worthy and generally good people. This was confusing for me, because all the people I had around me in my early years were not only distrustful of others, but they were actively looking to take advantage of other people as well. This definitely sent me the message that people are dangerous, but also that I needed to act in the ways I had modeled for me in order to survive. I.e. mean, distrustful and to pull away from those who got too close.

To counter these old messages, I had to learn to trust and rely on others. I started small, first with those who were closest in, then extending that trust outward. I knew I could count on a handful of friends and family in the beginning. Four or five people that I engaged with regularly. This was a huge step for me and no easy task.

I was taught that since I couldn’t trust anybody, I had to do everything on my own. So relying on others for help with even the smallest of tasks was a challenge. I would make excuses for why I was doing things solo such as, “no-one does it as well as I do”, needing it to be perfect. Or the reverse, “can’t anybody do anything right?!” Both ways of being essentially saying that I was unable to rely on others, while really just being too scared to ask for help.

On the up side, when I finally swallowed my pride and learned to ask for help, things became so much easier. I was no longer running around frantically, trying to keep all the plates I had spinning from crashing down. I was still working hard, but those I invited into my life were willing to lend a hand.

Letting Those You Trust Help

A great example of letting those I learned to trust help me is with my student loans. As I’ve said, when I came to and realized I was living a life lead by fear, I was isolated from just about everybody. I had also racked up just north of 100k in debt, 78k being in student loans. This was quite the wake up call.

So I started in on my debts using the Dave Ramsey method of throwing everything I had at my debt, picking up a part time job which turned into my full-time gig along the way. But with such a large sum to pay back, it seemed as though it would take a life’s time to pay back all that I owed.

So when I started the conversation with those I chose to let into my circle, I was surprised to find out how willing they were to help me out of the hole I had dug. As they saw me working to pay off my debt, a few of my supports offered to chip in 1k for every 10k I paid off. I was ecstatic to receive this news and made my efforts just that much easier knowing that I’d be finished with my goals earlier than I had planned.

And with the promising news of president Biden saying that he will make a decision about debt forgiveness by the fall of ’22, I reached out to another support who offered to chip in some as well. This was most unexpected as the relationship I have with this support has been strained in the past. But I find the more positive I am, along with the work I’m willing to put into the relationships, the more support I receive in all sorts of ways. But this type of relationship building takes work.

Working To Keep These Relationships Alive To Ward Off Fear

Many of the relationships I am currently rebuilding have sustained some pretty intensive damage in the past from both parties. As I’ve said before on this blog, we were mean, especially towards one another. So as I was learning how to care for myself by reparenting and learning the act of self-care, I was also extending what I learned with my own research and extending it to those I was learning to trust.

What I had never learned, and what is probably a no-brainer to mot people is, that when you’re in a relationship with others, you need to tend to it. Otherwise you will be left with something that doesn’t quite resemble connection and definitely is void of support.

For example, when I started building my relationship with my father and step-mom again, I had neglected our relationship so badly that we had almost no shared common interests and nothing to talk about. Our conversations were overly formal and guarded with very little emotional content.

As time passed and while I was learning to trust people again, I began to include my dad and step-mom into the habits and rituals I was learning to keep for myself. One of them being my self-care dinners I make for myself once a week.

Since these dinners had been so beneficial for my well being, I decided to extend this newly developed skill in caring for myself to those I trusted. And what came from it was, family dinner Fridays. We now come together every Friday night, one person picks a recipe to cook and we all make the meal together. The food is almost always good, the mood and interactions are definitely less formal and we’re all enjoying not only ourselves, but the company of each other. We feel more like a family because of it.

Ask The Friend For Love

And this type of relationship building extend to friend as well. I was recently having a conversation with a friend about how difficult it was to pay down debt when the numbers feel so large. We are both in similar situations and have been a good source of support for one another.

I was thinking about how I wanted to reach out to my friend more often, seeing as we only spoke maybe once every three weeks, when he told me that he was also feeling pretty isolated with the irregular hours he worked, consequently having a lot of free time on his hands. I suggested that we hang out more often and he was more than happy to get together more regularly.

I had just assumed that he was busy living his own life and that if I reached out too often, I would be a burden to him in some way. This was not the case and in fact, most of my friends feel exactly the same way. So if you’re feeling as though you’re being a burden to your friends, don’t believe it. Have a conversation with them and find out how they feel before you make any judgements.

Living From A Place Of Support, Not Fear

Fear can be tricky. If we’re not careful, the fearful emotions we have will take the wheel and we’ll be in the passenger seat of our own life bus. This is how I spent a good portion of my time when it came to making decisions about the direction of where my life was heading and it was definitely not a desirable place to be.

But when we choose to make friends with the fear, the fear of connecting to others, the fear of giving up the control of doing everything ourselves and release that isolation, we begin to heal from the fear. Like Mark Twain said, it’s still there, only we are behind the wheel of our life bus and we can choose to let those who will support us on for our journey and join in for some of the ride.

So fear not! Know that you are not alone and that the journey gets easier the more you’re able to let those who want to, help you. Peace, : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “O OUTRO LADO DO MEDO É A LIBERDADE (The Other Side of the Fear is the Freedom)” by jonycunha is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

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

Sleeping In and The News

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

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

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

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

Feeling Tired and Overwhelmed? Sleep Less

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

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

That Extra Half an Hour Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Take The Good You Take The Bad…

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

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

With So Much Worry, What About The Positive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I A “Real Man”? Or, How to Know When You Need to Flex on Some Turkeys : )

I was walking to a local shop not to long ago, to attempt to pick up my phone from being repaired after it stopped holding a charge. While I was on my why to the train station, I noticed a flock of wild turkeys bobbing around, looking for grubs to snack on. I thought that it was nice that I’ve been seeing more wildlife in the area, turkeys and rabbits being among them. So, with that in mind, I continued on my path towards the train station.

About a minute after passing the turkeys, I turned around for some reason only to notice that two of the turkeys had begun following me. I figured it was mating season, and I must have infringed on their territory. So I continued walking thinking they’d soon get bored and quit the chase. This however did not happen.

The turkeys got more aggressive, getting closer to me while pecking in the air in my direction. I turned around to face them, walking backwards while swinging my backpack at them in an attempt to shoo them, only to find that this was not helpful. While this was happening, a passerby drove up behind them and started honking the horn at them. This did not deter the turkeys. They raged on in my direction with an arrogant indignation of my presence.

The girl in the front seat of the car couldn’t have been more than 13 years-old, and was laughing hysterically. And trust me when I say, the humor was not lost on me : )

It was in this moment of levity, that my savior came. It was a little Yorkie Terrier guided by a man in his thirties. The man was explaining how waiving my bag was only making the turkeys more bold, while a dog one fourth the size of one of the birds, chased them into the nearby woods. It was a site to see, for sure and if I had my phone I would have definitely taken a video for documentation.

Is That What a Man’s Supposed to be Like?

Being chased by turkeys got me thinking, “how should I have handled this situation” and “does being chased by turkeys make me less of a man?” The conclusions I’ve come to are, no and let me tell you why.

My Role Models Growing Up

In the time and place I grew up, being a man was usually paired with gratuitous violence and a black and white way to choose and practice your morals and values. Characters like Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Predator” embodied these behaviors, that men were supposed to emulate in order to be a man. That was the unwavering standard of what makes a man, a man.

And needless to say, these were unreasonable. But to an eight year-old, they make perfect sense. Through the eyes of a child, there is most definitely evil in the world and it needs to be smote by a muscle bound savior. Most likely fighting against all odds to save the day for the masses, or a woman. The dangerous part of this message is that, we were all led to believe that deep down, we (real men) are the good guys and we could use whatever means necessary to achieve the end goal of, fighting for the greater good.

This is, from my understanding, the way we rationalize using violence to achieve our goals. But as I see it, this use of violence is a form of letting our emotions take the wheel and control our actions. I could have charged the turkeys and released my anger and frustrations on them for trying to chase me and do them harm in the process. And I have a few people in my life that would have told me that a “real man” would have drop kicked those turkeys into the next zip-code. But would I be more of a man for doing that? No. Losing control of our emotional states is more a trait of immaturity. More child like.

And of course, this reaction takes root in the male role models we had in our childhoods. Professional wrestling was a huge proponent of this type of machismo attitude also. All the posturing and flexing, mixed with the bravado worked to normalize the use of violence to alleviate the discomfort of feeling unsafe. Because at the core of conflict is that somebody, something or animals in my case, are threatening my safety. Perceived or physical.

So if I’m right, most aggression is really a way to avoid the difficult emotions of feeling unsafe, or not in control of our safety and surroundings. So how do we make the shift from feeling unsafe and acting from our fear based emotions to a more stable emotional place? I think it starts with practice and a little help from some healthier role models. Let me tell you how I’ve been practicing this.

My Role Models Now

I have a few photos on my phone’s wallpaper that rotate at random. They are, Dana Schultz from Minimalist Baker, Adriene Mishler from Yoga With Adriene, 2 Pac, Tom Hanks, Damon Albarn from Blur, Tara Brach, Mark Twain, Rumi, D’ Angelo the R&B artist and Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold the rock climbers. As well as a few photos of things I’d like to have or achieve.

Adriene, Dana and Damon are there to remind me to keep at it, whatever it is. They are so prolific as artists, writers and doers and give me inspiration to keep writing or stay on top of my yoga practice or do my best in my work. Whatever it is I’m doing, when I see their photos, I’m reminded to try a little harder.

Tom and Tara are on there to show me that I don’t have to be so hard all the time. The lessons I learned growing up, the ones that told me I had to be calloused and unfeeling as a man just aren’t true. Tom, especially his role in “Sleepless in Seattle”, illustrates the vulnerability we all have. And not that it’s only a female trait, but a humane one. Tara reminds me to be patient and also to nurture myself along the way. All ways of being that I was taught weren’t a man’s job.

Mark, Rumi, Tommy and Alex are there because they are great at what they do/did. And what made them great was their persistence, resilience and dedication. When I see them, I know that if I work hard enough, I’ll accomplish my goals. Anything’s possible. “Courage is mastery of fear, resistance to fear, not absence of it” – Mark Twain.

D’ Angelo made the list to remind me that as a man, it’s okay to show emotions deeply. To feel deeply and to be seen. I was taught that men didn’t have emotions other than anger. And even though we showed anger freely, we were shamed for showing it. Of course we were relating to it in reactionary ways. This was unhealthy. I now recognize the full spectrum of my emotions as they happen and wait before I respond. Giving myself a little more leeway.

And 2-Pac made the list because “everybody and their lady got a little bit o thug in em.” I sometimes need to be reminded that it’s okay to break the rules sometimes. We’re not perfect and that’s okay.

So with these new role models, I’m rebuilding a new version of myself. One that is strong and flexible. Loyal and dedicated. Feels deeply and is not ashamed of it. Not afraid to take some risks, but also knows how to be soft when I need to be. Especially with myself. I’m building a better man, from the new resources I’ve been collecting. And it’s not easy.

The Road Is Most Definitely Difficult

There are definitely times that I want to give in to the feelings of being overwhelmed, or fatigue. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, the days when you “just don’t wanna.” Thanks Chris. But it’s worth remembering that feelings are fleeting. They never last.

There are times like today, when I wake up at 6:30am to work in a bakery/restaurant and then go directly to my second job at a family shelter, where on top of my professional duties, I also plan my personal responsibilities for the upcoming week. After 16 hours of working straight, I am definitely ready to do absolutely nothing.

And it may be easier to take the road I once did. Where I would work minimal hours and spend the rest of my time playing videogames and drinking. Chasing pleasure rather than building the connections and experiences that would persist and bring me joy in a sustainable way. But the “easier” way of living brought with it a consistent sense of fear and anxiety. Not to mention I had almost no close friends to share my time with. I was alone and I had no idea that it was connected to the ways I was isolating from everyone.

Isolation is yet another lesson I learned on how to be a man by my caregivers and culture. Something I’ll be exploring some more in next weeks post. There’s something deceptively comforting in thinking you can do it all alone. Though impossible to actually accomplish, we still try. This is mostly due to, I believe, being told and shown we can by the culture. Being afraid to ask for help because it means you aren’t in control was another lesson on manhood I received in my childhood.

But avoiding connection was all connected to running from the fear of being hurt in relationships. We all get hurt by one another eventually. It’s only a matter of time really. But we need one another. Because being connected and sharing experiences are what makes life worth living. We can’t do that on our own.

So When Is It Okay To Flex On Some Turkeys?

This is by no means an exhaustive list on the many pitfalls we face when measuring ourselves up against the standards of what it means to be a man. These are only my perspectives of the lessons I’ve had impressed on me and what I’ve learned from them. But know that if you have some fears or questions on what it means to be a man, you are not alone.

It’s hard to come to the conclusion of what being a man means to us on an individual level. And what it means to you may not be what it means for me. But we’re all on the same journey together. And sometimes our paths do cross and we walk for a little while together. Hopefully my experiences have helped you in some way understand your experience a little better.

And I think the answer lies in something that Adriene from “Yoga With Adriene” says often, “find what feels good”. Only I’d add, in a sustainable way. Peace : ) and thanks for reading. Oh yeah, if you found that you’re being chased by turkeys, the common wisdom is to show dominance by waving your arms wildly while shouting and slowly walking towards them. Also having a dog on a leash helps as well. One more reason to own a dog : )

Image Credits: “I had to inch my way past this gang of local hooligans to get out of my driveway this morning. #lifeinthesuburbs #morningcommute” by Lorianne DiSabato is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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

Last week I spoke about the situation I found myself in, looking into planning for my retirement while paying down my student loans. This week I’d like to talk about the strategies and accounts I’ll be taking and opening to help detour some of the misdirection I received in my youth. It’s scary to think how much time I’ve lost to just not knowing how to plan for the future. But it’s never too late to start and there’s no time like the present. So let’s jump in.

I’d also like to take the time to state that I am not a financial professional and these are just my opinions of how I’m planning for retirement. If you have any questions about your own financial situation, I suggest you seek out help from a professional financial adviser.

10% or 15% How Much Should I Save?

There are a couple of different views on this front. Dave Ramsey says to save 15% of your annual income after you’ve paid off your debt and set up an emergency fund. While Ramit Sethi suggests saving 10% and doing so while you’re paying down low interest debt such as student loans.

Dave’s rational is that if you’re in debt, then paying into retirement doesn’t make any sense if it means extending the life of your loans and the interest you’ll be paying on them. This makes sense, seeing how you’re not really making money if you’re still paying somebody else at the same time.

But Ramit’s point is valid as well. His angle being that the sooner you begin to invest, the more time you have to let your money grow. And it’s better to start the process of saving as early as possible. So the question remains, should we invest 10% or 15% and should I pay off debt first or jump right in with savings?

Whether you decide to start right away, while paying down low interest student loans or to pay into retirement after you’re done with debt, that’s your call. My take on the subject is, the more I save the better and the less debt I have, the easier it will be to reach those goals. If I can put away 15%, I’m going for it. Hell, if I can put away 20%, even better. But before I go ape shit and throw everything I’ve earned towards retirement, I want to make sure that I’m not spreading my finances too thin by trying to save too aggressively. Also that I’m able to enjoy my money as well.

The goal of saving for your future isn’t only about surviving, it’s about enjoying yourself. Do I really want to look back in retirement and think, “man, I’m sure glad I missed out on all those fun things I could have done instead of saving so aggressively for retirement”. This is a bit of an exaggeration, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. But I’m not going to let saving for retirement get in the way of living my life either. Just like most things in life, there’s a balance to be struck.

The Accounts I’ll be Opening

This one was a little confusing for me when I first started thinking about investing. Should I start with an account that is tax deferred, so I’m taxed when I withdraw my money? Or should I open an account where I’m taxed when I make the deposit, and withdraw without being taxed? This all depends on your situation and I suggest that you speak with a qualified financial professional about your options.

But it’s still good to do some research on the subject before hand, so you’ll know the right questions to ask. Dave Ramsey has a good list of retirement accounts and their specific details here on his website. But as for the accounts I’ll be opening, it seems as though most people are on the same page, and me as well.

401k

A 401k is a retirement account that you can fund directly from your paycheck, allowing you to make contributions tax free. The benefits are, your money grows tax free and Uncle Sam takes his share when you make withdrawals. Also, you’re able to contribute up to 22,000 dollars a year as of 2022. You also have to wait until you are 59 1/2 to start making withdrawals or you will pay heavy fees.

This type of account is often offered by your employer. And some companies offer a match up to a certain percentage. This means that the company will offer you a certain amount of money based on how much you contribute to your fund. This may be a dollar amount set by the company, or a percentage of your annual salary.

Roth IRA

Roth IRAs or Roth Individual Retirement Accounts, are personal accounts you take out independently, where your contributions are taxed before being added to the fund and are not taxed when you withdraw your money or while your investment is growing. You fund these accounts after taxes are taken out of your pay, unlike a 401k, and are capped at $6,000 annually as of 2022, $7,000 if you are over the age of fifty.

Roth IRAs are good options because they are available to everybody as long as you meet the income requirements. As of 2022 the limit for a single person is under $144,000 a year. They’re great savings vehicles and the sooner you get started investing in them, the better. Also you don’t have to start withdrawing until you’re 72. Unlike the age limit of 59 1/2 for 401ks.

Social Security

Also, don’t forget about social security! Where this isn’t technically an account that you open, it’s something you’ve most likely been contributing to your entire working career.

How it works is, you pay into it by having it taken out of your paycheck directly. Your contributions are listed as the “social security” line on your paystub. When you’re ready to withdraw, which you can start at age 62 to age 70, the government takes the highest earning 35 years or your working history, and averages them to calculate your payout. If you work less than 35 years, the years that you didn’t work will equal 0. This could hurt your total payout when you decide to withdraw.

This link from The Penny Hoarder goes into detail about how social security works and the questions you may have navigating it. It can be deceptively complicated, so take your time and do some research around this subject.

Other Accounts

The above accounts are what I’ll be using, but there are also a variety of other accounts that may be more suited to your situation. For example, if you’re a freelancer, you may want to open up a SEP-IRA. This is a plan for individuals who are self employed or small business owners. If your employer offers a pension, this is also something worth looking into as well. And again, if you have any questions on what’s right for you in your situation, get in touch with a financial planner who can help you make these important decisions about your future.

What’s My Strategy?

So now that we took a quick look at some of the basic retirement accounts and how they work, how do we put them all together to make a comfortable retirement? I’ll walk you through what I’m planning on doing as of now, with my investing. Of course this is unique to my situation so it will be helpful for you to take a look at what’s out there and what works best for you, speaking with a professional when necessary. Hopefully this will help give you some basic info when deciding what’s best for your plan.

And luckily, Dave Ramsey and Ramit Sethi both seem to agree about some basic money maneuvers when it comes to retirement. Their plans are something I’ve modeled my own after. So if these guys are on the same page, it’s likely that their advise should be taken into consideration. I’d also like to say that I’ll be meeting with a financial advisor once I hit some of my financial goals, to fine tune my plan. So let’s review what I’ve come up with.

Step One: 401k With a Match

The first step I took was to see if my employer had a 401k I could contribute to and if they had a match. Fortunately for me, my employer does have a 401k. Unfortunately, they do not offer a match. If my employer did offer a match, I would most definitely take advantage of this. Reason being, that any match they would give me would be the equivalent of getting free money. And it would just be silly for me to say no to free money. But since they do not offer anything in the way of a match, it’s on to step two for me.

Step Two: Roth IRA

The next step, and the one where I’ll be starting my savings journey is, opening a Roth IRA. You can open a Roth with just about any investment firm or bank. For example, Fidelity has a Roth account you can open with only a few pieces of identification and a bank account with which to start funding it.

As of 2022, you are only able to contribute $6,000 to your account annually and $7,000 if you’re over the age of fifty, incase you need to play catchup for starting late. For me, this means I can max out my Roth IRA contributions with $500 a month. And luckily for me, this fits just inside of my budget for my savings goals with a little extra to contribute to another account. So once I max out my Roth IRA, what’s my next step?

Step Three: 401k, Again?

After I contribute all I’m able to to my Roth, it’ll be time for me to revisit my 401k again. This is where I’ll be putting my overflow from my 15%+ savings goal that won’t fit in my Roth IRA after I’ve met my cap. Allowing my contribution to grow tax deferred is better than letting it sit in high interest savings like a money market account.

My money market account is solely for the purpose of housing my emergency fund and any long term savings goals I have. Such as saving a down payment for a house. And if you still need somewhere to stash your retirement savings after maxing out both a Roth and a 401k, congratulations! Because you are crushing it on your pay rate and planning!

Step Four: Social Security

The good news is, once you’ve established the above accounts, Roth IRA and 401k, by the time you’re ready to collect social security, you’ll be in pretty good shape. Social security was never meant to be the sole source of income for retired individuals. It’s supposed to be supplemental income to your other accounts. And there are benefits to taking out your social security at the later age of 70. So be mindful of how and when you decide to start collecting on all of these accounts. It will literally pay off in the long run.

Some numbers I’ve read are that social security is only supposed to account for 40%-60% of your income in retirement. This means you need a healthy amount in your retirement accounts by the time you start withdrawing from social security. So be prepared and make sure you’re spending time researching what you want your future to look like and how much it will cost to fund it.

Make a Plan and Stay Fluid

When it comes to planning for your future, it’s best to play it safe. Talk with people who know what the market looks like and who have been down this road before. I’ve been lucky enough to have some good role models in this area. One of the most valuable pieces of information being, if you don’t know something, ask someone who does.

There’s a lot of information out there and not all of it good. So be diligent and find some people you can trust to help guide you along the way. Dave Ramsey and Ramit Sethi are two great resources out there for handling money responsibly. Also, The Penny Hoarder and Nerd Wallet are two sites that have a wealth of general information about money matters and ones I visit when I have questions about how accounts, or things money related work.

Knowing we’re in a good place and that we’ll be able to meet our monetary needs for our future is important, and also an act of self-care. Money isn’t the most important thing in our lives, but not being responsible with it can do some serious harm. For example, I just celebrated my 42nd birthday and am $55k in debt. This can be a scary place to be if you don’t have a plan. Luckily for me, there are load of resources at my disposal. And just remember, when it feels like it’s impossible, or your feeling like giving up, know that it’s never too late to start. Just be patient. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

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

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