Finding Your Values: What Are They? How Do You Know?

Values were something I hadn’t thought much about in my youth. I had a lot of opinions and I had a self-righteous streak when defending those opinions, but I never thought of them as values. Or even thought of them in a sense of structure or order. In short, I felt that most of the time I was right, and everybody else needed to catch up. This, as you have probably already guessed, did not win me very many friends. Nor was it a very sustainable way to navigate my life. I burned a lot of bridges being unforgiving. And if I could change it, I would.

But with that said, I feel the best way to atone for past mistakes is to make healthier decisions going forward into the future. And for me, that started with hammering out my basic values.

So What Are My Values?

For me, values are forms of expression that are lived through ourselves, our personality and actions. For example, one of my values is honesty. The simple act of being honest in my day to day interactions is something that is important to me. But this is something that I learned later on in life. And unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way.

I was likely to say anything that would get me what I wanted when I was young. And later in life as well, I would think nothing of embellishing the truth. This was mostly due to me feeling as though I wasn’t worth the attention or affections of another. I was so use to being left on my own, that I would say just about anything for someone to want to be around me. And what was so strange about how I was acting, all to be seen and liked by others, that when somebody did show an interest in who I was, I was usually clueless. I was so wrapped up in what Brene Brown calls, “hustling for approval” that I was blind to those who would have been good friends.

Pay for Your Ticket

What turned honesty into one of my values was, while I was riding the commuter rail two stops over to the next town on my way to an appointment, I decided that I was going to always pay for my ticket. This seems like a simple decision to make. And it was. Only, before that day I had always looked for a seat with a zone tag on it, hoping to fool the conductor into thinking I had already paid for my ticket.

I could afford the ticket, so it wasn’t an issue of saving the $3.25 that the ticket costs. I was just trying to be sneaky, get away with something because I could. And one day I realized that that is not the type of person I wanted to be. Hiding from a conductor to avoid paying $3.25 seemed childish to me the more I thought about it. So it was this simple decision of always paying for my ticket, where my value of honesty was forged. And as far as values go, this is an important one.

Without it, we wouldn’t have many relationships founded on trust. This was a problem that I kept finding myself confronted with. Most of the people I had in my life, also didn’t have many values. And it wasn’t until I started practicing my values, that I came to know my true friends. And it feels good. Being able to rely on my friends, no matter what : )

My Short List of Values

Okay, so honesty is a pretty universal one. But how do we find out what our values even are if you’re starting from scratch. Much in the way that I started finding what I valued. As with most things when I’m uncertain of what to do, I start a list. And finding my values was no different. Below you’ll find a short list of the ways I want to live my life:

  • Kindness to myself and others, be forgiving, don’t talk badly about others or myself.
  • Physically fit and a healthy lifestyle so I can avoid injury and stay healthy. Another way to care for myself 🙂
  • Patience and calm
  • Women are not sex objects
  • Hard working and take pride in my work. Do a good job whatever I’m doing. Don’t cut corners.
  • Honesty
  • Stay away from drugs. alcohol is okay once and a while.
  • Find the time to relax and take care of myself.
  • Be humble, watch my judgements of people.
  • Stay clean and organized
  • Don’t over consume, less is more.

This list came to be after I had been practicing many of the different components for a while. These are the ways I want to be living my life. It’s also worth mentioning that I adhered to almost none of these values before I decided to make changes in my life for the positive. And it wasn’t easy making the change.

Some Habits are Harder to Break Than Others

My proverbial white whale was “women are not sex objects”. This way of viewing the world was foundational for my younger self. While I was growing up, I received so much negative reinforcement around self worth being intrinsically connected to looking attractive that it was law. So when I viewed women, this was the first criteria I used to decide their value. These were definitely unhealthy ways of viewing my world.

But, it was all I knew. It wasn’t until I finally felt heard with a woman, that I stopped the cycle of objectifying them. And that’s not to say that I don’t still appreciate their beauty, but it isn’t the ONLY qualifying factor now, as it once had been.

Now, regardless of whom I’m talking with or thinking about, they are people first. They have just as much going on in their lives as I do, possibly more. So it’s with this outlook that I come to each interaction and try to keep the judgmental side of me to a minimum. And that’s not always easy. I find myself constantly trying to refrain my thinking around each interaction. Trying not to fall into the old habits I once was so accustom to. And this is something that we learn as we go. It’s not something that’s just presented to most of us, unless we have great role models growing up. Which sometime happens if we’re lucky. Though usually it’s something that’s learned new, each generation.

How do We Cultivate Values?

So if you’re reading this, you may be wondering, “how do I cultivate or find out what I value?” For me, it took a lot of looking at what I was already doing and liking about myself and practicing those aspects. Journaling was something that was invaluable to me in figuring out what my values were.

I enjoy the process of bringing order to things, so making a list in my journal and fleshing out why they are important to me came almost second nature. I say almost, because I first had to find a vehicle for my voice. Writing to me just came naturally.

Finding Your Voice

When you think about the aspects that you admire about yourself, what are they? How do you express yourself in the best possible ways? What do you like about yourself? These are the elements of yourself that you can hold on to and develop into your voice. Maybe you’re good at organizing people and events. What about organizing gives you a sense of fulfilment?

For me, as I’ve said above, I enjoy writing and bring together feelings in this outlet. So journaling and blogging are two of my favorite pass times. But what’s important is, that we find what matters most to us and bring that out in how we decide to communicate.

For example, one of my values is self-care. So I’ve posted about my self-care routines on this blog, as well as a resource list on my notes app that I can access when I need a quick pick me up. I am able to convey my values through what comes naturally to me, my writing. And it’s different for everybody. So finding out how you like to express yourself, or what comes natural to you, is important to knowing how to express your values.

Expressing What You Are

After you’ve found your medium, now it’s time to express what you like about yourself. Do you feel best about yourself when you’re helping others? Or maybe when you’ve taken care of yourself and your surroundings. One of the things that brings me joy is looking at something that’s been designed well.

The clean feel with the warmth of colors and textures that come together to make a house feel more like a home has always held a special place in my heart. And staying clean and organized helps not only our physical space, i.e. if you clean out your fridge after you grocery shop each week, you more than likely won’t have a three week old container of whatever growing mold. But it also gives us the mental clarity to not worry about having to clean out the fridge. And this type of organizational mind space can be extended to other areas of your life as well.

In short, sticking to your values can create more ease in your day to day life. It may not be easy to begin this change to values based thinking and acting, but it will definitely help to create more confidence in how you move through the world.

Finding the Middle

Values are important, because they give us they impetuous to define how and who we want to be. But taken too seriously and you can become rigid and unyielding. On the other hand, if you side step your values when situations become difficult, then they aren’t really your values. So finding a middle ground to balance out being too ridged or too lax is important.

When I was younger, honor was driven into me as one of my values in the most militant way I could imagine. A family member would pull me out of bed at two in the morning and drill into me the importance of being a man. This was terrifying for a child of 8, but I held very close to those values, to the point of being mean and unforgiving to others. This is an example of taking values too far in one direction.

On the other side of the spectrum, in my teens and twenties, I was reckless and had no boundaries. I drank to excess and lived in squaller. I was looking to avoid the responsibility of being an adult at all costs, using whatever means necessary. Now that I’ve matured, I’ve been able to find the middle, where I’ve learned to be forgiving, while also holding to my values without judging those who hold values different from mine.

Don’t Worry You’ll Find Your Way

This was something I wish had been told to me as a child. I was so worried about how to feel belonging, that I didn’t have any values. I was just doing what everybody else was doing, hoping to feel accepted. And all the while not realizing who I was becoming. Spoiler, it wasn’t who I wanted to be. So if you’ve found that you are lacking in some moral center, or want to explore your values some, know that it is totally possible and you are probably already practicing some of what makes you, the best version of yourself.

For some more reading on the subject, my therapist introduced me to the 8 C’s and 5 P’s of IFS. This is a quality list of values that aren’t hyper masculine or gender specific. So they’re perfect for starting out on your journey to discovering what your values are and how to cultivate the ones that look, well, like they have some value to you. And know that it is never too late to cultivate the version of yourself you want to be. All you need to do is get out there and make it happen. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Value” by cameraburps is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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

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

The Drift

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

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

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

Role Models Matter

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

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

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

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

The Outcome

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

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

The Plan

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

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

The Elements

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing It Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing it For Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

Waking From the Trance of Living a Subdued Life: Living Life With Direction

Last week, I wrote a lot about what it meant for me to feel a lack of being liked and feeling belonging. But also the ways that I woke from what Tara Brach calls, “the trance” of not feeling as though I belonged. I’d like to revisit the ways in which I woke from how I was living while trying to feel approved of, to how I felt comfortable with and approved of myself. All of which, finally leading to a place where I’m living my life with more direction.

There were a few different routes I took to finally feeling acceptance of where I am in life. Many of which I’ve written about in this blog. But they were important paths to waking from what I felt like I needed to do in order to feel loved. So let’s start with the area of my life that was holding me back in the most immediate way, my budget.

Buried in Debt? No Problem, You Got This

There is a specific memory that I reflect back on every once and awhile when I think about the amount of debt I was in. It’s of me, sitting in my bathrobe at my desk, cup of coffee on my left and looking at all the credit cards I had, on open tabs on my browser like I was watching a stock ticker. All the while I was wondering how much higher my credit score had to be in order for my credit limits to be increased.

I was also well on my way to amassing close to 100k in student loan debt, on top of the 25k I would eventually end up with on my credit cards. This was the height of me living on borrowed money. Not to mention a dangerous mindset to be in.

Now my routine is much different. I check my account balances to make sure I have enough money for the upcoming month’s budget. And now I look forward to paying off what’s left of my student loans instead of looking for ways to increase my debt limit. Usually a cup of green or herbal tea at my side : )

Choosing to pay off my debt is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and it’s taught me so many valuable life lessons. Such as how to live on a budget, how to save for my future, what it means to live within my means, how to set up an emergency fund… The list keeps going. But these are the important lessons that I and so many more of us just never learned while becoming adults.

Willpower and Responsibility

Getting intentional with your money has the power to help you in so many other areas of living a more responsible life than just the financial sector. Such as developing a stronger sense of responsibility. And it’s an overall good place to start if you’re looking for more direction in general. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m following the Dave Ramsey steps to getting myself out of debt. I’m not as dedicated as some of his followers are, but there are definitely some parts of his plan that have been especially beneficial for me and my path. For example, learning willpower and self restraint through budgeting.

Paying off debt has freed up some of my income for other living expenses while teaching me how to exercise self-control over how I manage my money. Right now all my available funds are going towards my debt. But the difference between my 700$ monthly minimum payments now and the 950$ monthly payments I used to make, is the difference between whether or not I can afford groceries for the month. And that’s kind of a big deal!

Paying off my credit cards alone freed up 250$ worth of monthly payments I would have been paying to a credit card company were I still in debt. Not to mention all the compound interest I was accruing. That’s about the national average for a single persons grocery budget. The worst part of it all is, I don’t really have an idea of where all my money went. Most likely on alcohol and restaurants. But my standard of living hasn’t changed much since I’ve been free of credit card debt. Which leads me to the question: What’s the point of credit card debt in the first place?

Paying Off Debt: Side Hustle

One of the ways I’ve helped to cut down the amount of time I’ll be in debt is by picking up a second job. This has been a positive for me in my life in so many different ways.

My side hustle is at a homeless shelter for families. I work only six days a month, but it will reduced the over all time I’ll be in debt by about two years. I’ve also been able to write this blog, organize my budget and to-do list, research recipes and put together shopping lists, as well as other opportunities for my future. It’s also hopefully where I’ll get a letter of recommendation for grade school when I’m ready to go back, after helping me to pay back my current debt, while funding my future educational expenses. Win win.

And not to mention, it’s fun. I enjoy the time I spend with the residents. Watching their children run around the house and play games. The co-workers I’m getting to know. It’s all been a positive experience for the most part. That being said, it’s not all sunshine and daisies. There are some days that I just don’t have it in me. This is why it’s important work a little motivation into your routine.

What’s Your Motivation?

On the days when my alarm goes off at 5:35am, and I know I won’t see my bed until 11:30pm, I need a little more than the few cups of tea I drink in the morning to keep me on my feet. This is where small reminders I’ve built into my days have helped me to stay on task, stay motivated.

Photo Bombs

One way I do this is by having a few photos as rotating wallpaper on my phone, of the things I want for myself in life. The things I’m working towards. For example, I have a couple of photos of Adrienne from Yoga with Adrienne, to remind me that there are healthy ways of staying physically fit with support from positive mentors. I also have a few pictures of Dana from Minimalist Baker as well for much the same reasons as with Adrienne. A reminder to take care of my nutritional needs in a healthy, nourishing way.

There is also an artist’s rendition of an elf, drawing an arrow from his quiver and readying himself for a fight. This helps me to remember that it isn’t always going to be easy. Sometimes you need to prepare yourself for a fight. Not that I’m advocating for violence in anyway, but bringing a feeling of being emotionally tough, resilient, is important for times when you feel like you want to give up and quit. Warrior II in yoga is a great way for me to embody this feeling. Taking up space with focus and intention is empowering.

Pin It

I also receive notifications from Pinterest a few times a day with new recommendations for my boards. Here is where I keep photos of what I want my future to look like. I mostly have pictures of beautiful living spaces. The house I want to build when I’m ready for the next step in my life. This is a space where I can just look at something pretty, inspiring, without feeling the pressure of needing to get something accomplished immediately. It’ll take time, but I also need the time to plan.

It brings me a sense of ease while also gently reminding me of what I’m working towards. Not to mention it allows me a place to organize all of these ideas and inspiration. This, organizing, also has a calming effect on me. The same goes for cleaning as well. Any chance to bring order to something, especially when it is something beautiful, is something I hold close to me. Something special. Which brings me to what I’m doing all of this for.

Friends, the Ultimate Motivation

There are a few memories from my old life that I look back on with nostalgia. Most of them are of the times I spent with close friends, at their camp in Maine. The hours spent gathered around a camp fire, with nothing to do and nowhere to be. Feeling totally at ease in the moment with good friends and good conversation.

For me, this is the reason I’m so focused on living a life with more direction. So I can make more memories like these. My friends and those I hold close to me are my motivation. But this wasn’t always the case.

The lessons I was taught, both modeled and unspoken were, people will hurt you and they are not to be trusted. This was, and to some extent is, how my caregivers chose and choose to live their life. And I followed in their footsteps.

I was mean and cold to people to keep them at a distance. I needed to be right about people to avoid the uncertainty of possibly being rejected by them. So I pushed them away first. Now I do things much differently.

Reciprocating in Your Relationships

I’m now able to share more openly with those closest to me. My thoughts, feelings, ideas and interests. This is something that is so basic, but is avoided by so many, that it kind of blows my mind.

The ways I used to be in my friendships was one sided. They were on my terms usually and I always needed a buffer between us. Such as alcohol, or objectifying women. It was just too vulnerable to talk to my friends about how I was feeling. To be fair, I had a lot of trouble knowing what emotion I was feeling. But this was because everytime an emotion came near, I pushed it away. Just like the people in my life.

Now sharing with others isn’t a source of fear anymore. For example, my employer makes a brown bread that reminds me of the happier times in my childhood. It’s also a recipe from her great, great, great grandmother. I was able to share with her that I enjoyed the bread and wanted to try and replicated it. In case she wanted to keep the recipe in her family, I didn’t ask. But she gladly offered to share her recipe with me.

This is exactly the type of reciprocation I would have run from in the past. I would have been to proud to admit that they made something that exceeded my standards and what chance there was of bonding would have died there. Me feeling as though I was superior to others stopped me from making authentic connections with others. Not to mention it was just plain mean and arrogant.

Healthy Helping

The same friend I used to go to Maine with and sit around his camp fire while talking for hours, has recently been doing some renovations to his house. I’ve been pitching in when our schedules align and this has been another way of building healthy bonds. I say healthy helping, because the ways I used to help others was definitely detrimental to creating enduring relationships.

My former self would help someone in need, but there was always a catch. I would usually hold it over them as though I was so gracious to be helping. Teasing them for it later, only with cruel intentions.

Or I would passive aggressively harbor a grudge for feeling as though I was making such a great sacrifice for them. But these were the relational maps I was given as a child. I was usually made to feel as though any need I had was a great injustice and cross to be born by my caregivers. I’ve come to realize that this was largely due to my caregivers having zero boundaries.

Now that I understand what healthy boundaries look like, I’ve been able to make better decisions concerning how much of myself and my resources I’m able to give. For instance, when I’m helping my friend with his renovations, I’m enjoying the time we spend together, literally and figuratively building something of value and worth. And that feels great for a change : )

Sounding Board

It’s also nice to have some friends you know you can talk to about anything. Those friends that no matter the topic, are down to field a call from you. Whether it’s to complain about what’s current in your life, get some advice or a new perspective. These buddies are clutch. Like a Swiss army knife, down for whatever.

I have a couple of friends who fit this bill. I think what’s been so enriching about our relationship is, we’ve been forging our own paths together in many of the same areas of our lives where we lacked direction in the form of role models.

For example, there is one couple in particular that has been crucial in helping me, and each other, in learning how to handle finances responsibly. As we reach milestones or experience one of life’s lessons, we are a consistent source of support for one another as we continue to learn how to navigate these areas of our lives. If something happens, I know I can call them up and usually feel as though I’m being supported, like I’m not alone.

And that’s what it comes down to. Feeling support, loved and belonging. So finding the right balance of self-care, care for and support from others are the elements to what makes us strong enough to live our lives with more focus and direction. They allow us to be who we really are and that’s worth more than the some of its parts. I hope you’ve found this post helpful in some way, and as always, peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Seek-Purpose-Painting” by Justin Masterson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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

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

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