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

Reparenting: Money, What’s its Real Purpose and How do we Avoid Collecting it Just to Feel Safe?

Money, another big topic (I guess I like the bigger issues). Amassing money is one of the most ubiquitous goals we have as humans, and is connected to a lot of different emotional states. Safety is a big one, and not without some wisdom. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on how we relate to money from a perspective of how it may make us feel safe. There are numerous reasons to want large sums of money to be sure, but if I don’t narrow it down, we’d be here for a while!

My views on money are not entirely in the camp of, the root of all evil. For example, without money, or some form of interchangeable, fluid asset, I more than likely wouldn’t be wearing clothes, because I don’t know how to create a bolt of cloth on a loom, or really know how to grow cotton. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be cautiously skeptical of the accumulation of wealth and the power and influence that it may yield.

There’s a lot of area we could cover to be sure. But let’s look at how it’s correlated with our feeling fearful if we aren’t on our desired financial track, and is more always better? In the way we have society set up now, you reach a certain age after working a specific amount of years, and then hopefully you’ll have saved enough funds to comfortably live out your plans for retirement. If we don’t have enough, we could become destitute, living hand to mouth and relying on government subsidies in low income housing. Or so I imagine many of us who fear not having enough feel our future will look if we don’t save as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

I had a wake up call not to long ago, when I went through a divorce. I found myself with no savings, no assets and a daunting amount of debt. Mostly in the form of student loans and credit cards at the tender age of 34. I was pretty normal, as Dave Ramsey likes to put it, and yeah, I was scared for sure. I had images of being homeless, begging for handouts because I felt like I had no resources to change my future for the better. With nobody to guide me along the way I felt lost. Luckily I have a father and stepmother who have been with me every step of the way since I woke up. Without them, I don’t like to think where I’d be.

That’s when I started to aggressively pay down my debt and set up an emergency fund for six months. So that I would be taken care of should I be unemployed for a long stretch of time or any other unexpected financial troubles. After I reach those goals, I will revisit what my retirement goals will look like. But I had no idea where to even begin. And speaking of no idea, if you read my post on being a part of someones solution without solving their problems, you’ll know that I had absolutely no parental guidance as to how to eat properly, let alone balance a budget and how to diversify my retirement portfolio (which I’m still a little fuzzy on :)! So at 34, I was close to 100k in debt, nowhere to live because the woman I left my wife for just kicked me out of the apartment we were sharing with three other people, with no real job prospects or stability.

That’s when I found Dave Ramsey, and his baby steps to getting out of debt. I’ll begin by saying, he’s not for everybody. He can be a bit overbearing. But for someone like me who was given nothing in the way of personal boundaries, he was just what I needed. What I like about the steps and the ways he lays them out is: when you are so used to debt being an abstract number so big that you can’t possibly see your way out of it in your lifetime, you need the small wins of completing a step. Or even paying down a smaller bill. That way you begin to understand that you are the one who is in charge of getting you out of your current situation. Not only that, but it’s obtainable!

And for a long time, I felt as though I were a passenger in the journey of my life. Not the one who was behind the wheel. When you’re the passenger, it’s easy to get into debt, because the numbers don’t really mean anything. It’s not until you know your agency, know your power and the effect you have on your life, that you are able to take control of your situation. And are able to make the decisions and choices that keep you on the right track. Be them financial, or healthy eating and exercise habits. Every choice you make in regards to your goals are what either drives you forward or sets you back. So if you decide to stop eating out to save money on your food budget, that’s a commitment you make to yourself and a choice to stay on the right path.

And of course, it’s not easy. If it were, everyone would be financially stable. But you need to show up everyday. Even when and especially when you don’t want to. The phrase fake it till you make it exemplifies this mindset well. Because it focuses on the need to cultivate discipline in order to make the transition from achieving lesser goals to larger ones. The reason I like the saying so much is that, obviously it shows us that we can make mistakes and learn how to, while we do, but more so for the perseverance element. You keep trying, keep “faking it” no matter if it looks like you know what you’re doing. The point is to keep doing.

And it’s this motivational aspect that will keep you rooted in achieving your goals. You need to find your why of course, or as we say in the yoga community, find your drishti. Your drishti is your focus. And it usually refers to a point of reference to focus your gaze while you attempt a difficult balancing pose. For me, it was a combination of fear of being destitute, mixed with a longing, almost a romantic idea, that my life could be the most interesting and gratifying endeavour I could undertake. But this motivation, this drishti, if left unchecked, could perpetuate the fear of not having enough rather than satiating it. Once we’ve reached our financial goals, we could take this motivation and desire for more and more, all under the guise of feeling safe, for ourselves and others.

This type of accumulating wealth under the pretense of safety, is akin to hoarding. If you already have enough, then no matter how much more you feel you need to collect, it’s still extra, too much. If you already have enough, and you keep collecting, the questions you need to be asking yourself are, why are you still collecting? Is it out of fear based thinking that you are collecting? Are you feeling you need to take care of those you love? Why are or aren’t you giving your money to charities, or helping the greater good in some way with your resources? Be they time or monetary?

It’s the answer to these questions that will help you to understand your relationship with money, and whether you own it, or it owns you. Because there’s nothing wrong with earning high wages, or even amassing a large sum of wealth. The issue is when it becomes your drishti and correlated with your safety.

So how do we keep ourselves focused and humble, while dealing with something that can be hazardous if handled without regard for the power it is capable of yielding? I should probably mention here that I don’t make boatloads of money, so I may not be the best qualified to answer this question. But I can draw on some parallels to how we react in moments of crisis or panic.

When I first heard about Covid, and how potentially deadly it could be, I was not one of the many who ran to the grocery store to stock up on toilet paper and bottles of water or bags of flour. As I’ve said before, I’m a baker by trade so I get enough baking in while I’m at work. And that’s not to say that I wasn’t frightened at times. Pandemics, no matter how you package them, awakens a primal fear that few are exempt from. So if I was afraid, what allowed me to focused on the calm in the face of fear based reaction?

I owe a lot of my steadiness to my meditation practice. I know that if I react to the unknown with fear, I will more than likely make poor choices. If I take the time to sit with the fear, and ask myself, “how do you want me to be with you?” Then I will usually make healthier decisions. And again, I’d like to reinforce that this is not easy to do. Our fear is driven by millenia of evolution, telling us to protect ourselves in the face of danger. And rightly so! But when our decisions are made from fear based thinking, panic sets in and that’s when we are prone to use violence or make choices that exclude others for our own benefit.

In the case of a pandemic, if we’re lucky, this type of fear based thinking may lead us to purchase large amounts of pantry staples and toilet paper we may not need. But if we are scared and focused on money, a six month emergency fund may not seem like enough, which then turns into a year or more. But then that may seem too little, and now your focus becomes broader. How much can I get, who do I have to take care of and for how long? These are valid questions, but if you already have, or on track to have enough, the more you have won’t make you feel any safer. And what’s more, this constant growth state isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, whether we realize it or not, no matter how much we have, safety is not intrinsic to money.

So how do we feel safe, safe enough to not collect what we may not need because we’re reacting from a place of fear based decision making? From my experience, this happens when we face our fears. And this is as individual as each person is unique. But there are some resources that we may all be able to rely on.

First is community. Friends and family, a group of trusted people experiencing something similar to what we’re going through. People to ask advice from and to lend a hand when we’ve gone through something another is struggling with. For me, while paying off my debt I had close friends I could ask advice from, and share resources with, such as Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps. The Ramsey community is also a great resource, providing feedback on a number of budget related questions and also moral support and enthusiasm. Which is definitely needed when you’re in the midst of such a tremendous task.

Second, finding a mentor, someone who’s forged a path and knows some of the road you are about to travel. How you may get stuck along the way and resources to get you back on the right path. Again, this is something I learned from the Ramsey community. I didn’t know how to put a budget together before I was 35. Which is embarrassing to admit, but no one ever showed me, and you don’t know what you don’t know. I learned how to use an envelope system which, in brief, is as it sounds. A variety of envelopes with cash allocated for each category of your budget for the month in them. And when you run out of money, that’s it until you refill the envelope next month. This can be a bit of a wake up call if you’re not used to budgeting cash this way so be forewarned and be vigilant! You don’t want to run out of grocery money in the first week of the month!

Third, trusting your own truly good nature. To be the person you envision as being your best self. The person who can deal with and handle unseen situations as they arise. Follow through with your plans that are in your own best interests and be trusted to know what those are.

The more often you make these decisions that affect you for the better, the greater the trust you build with yourself. And really, that’s the goal. To build a trusting relationship with yourself. To know that you are able to rely on yourself when the important decisions need to be made.

If we’ve spent a lifetime making questionable decisions about our future or present, then we may have some work to do to regain the trust we once had. Not every decision is going to be without uncertainty. But the more we show up for ourselves and forgive ourselves for not knowing the way, the greater the trust we cultivate in our core. And trust is definitely correlated with safety. The greater the trust we have in our actions from the day to day, the ease of knowing we have our best intentions at heart will give us the cussionning we need to feel safe if we do stumble and fall along the way.

Working to build trust with yourself is priority for a sense of safety. And we build it by making sound decisions from a calm, non-fear based, mindset. Dealing with the fears and insecurities we have, as they come up by talking them through with trusted friends and family. Or a community of like minded people who are experiencing similar situations, will help to calm these worries, and reset our focus on what’s important. The sense of wellbeing we gain from setting an intention to complete our goals, by following through in a calm, consistent manner. Not by grasping fearfully onto what we feel will solve the “problem of our fear”. I.e. lack of money and the more is better mindset.

So friends, it is with this that I leave you. Do not fret, the path is difficult at times, but we are here for one another. You are strong, you are wise. Everything you need, you have in you already. All you need do is call upon it. I’m here if you need a moral boost, but just know, you got this :] Be well, and peace.

Image Credits: “Money” by aresauburn™ is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0