Downshifting the TO DO List

blue bell alarm clock

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I had written a completely different post for today about working in 10-minute increments to get things done: clean the bathroom for 10 minutes; write for 10 minutes; exercise for 10 minutes. That’s my strategy, in a nutshell, for successfully managing my daily TO DO list.

But then I thought, “Who cares?” Honestly, I don’t even care about most of the things on my list! So why do I worry so much about getting everything done? The real purpose of downshifting is to work less and enjoy life more. Here, I really want to address that “enjoy life” part.

Even though I started downshifting my career over 15 years ago, I still struggle with enjoying my life outside of work. If I’m not working at my job, I constantly feel the need to be performing some type of household chore, or running some stupid errand. I feel guilty if I’m not legitimately “busy” all the time.

I try to just sit on the porch and read a book in the afternoon, or take a nap, but I always feel like I should be doing something else. I rush through tasks so that I can move on to the next thing, hurrying for no reason, never being fully present in whatever I’m doing. And most of the time, I’m not even aware that I’m doing it. This is the part of downshifting that I still need to work on.

That’s where my 10 minute rule does come in handy. Setting limits on how much of my time I’m willing to sacrifice for the things I have to do — cleaning the house, washing dishes, paying bills, doing laundry — frees up more time for the things I want to do — taking long walks, reading, writing, playing with my dogs. And sometimes I even allow myself to enjoy these things!

I just need to learn to relax and not feel guilty for enjoying my life! After all, if we’re not here on earth to be happy and enjoy ourselves, then what’s the point?! That should be #1 on everyone’s TO DO list.

~PEACE~

Advertisements

Downshifter Makes Short-Term Peace With Her Day Job

four rock formation

Photo by nicollazzi xiong on Pexels.com

My not-so-secret plan for years has been to quit my job at the post office after we paid off our house. Well, we finally made that final mortgage payment last month (cha-ching!), and guess what? I’m still working at the post office. And for the reasons I’ve outlined below, I’m almost even enjoying it (or at least it doesn’t suck too badly), for now.

Freedom

Somehow, knowing that most of my income is now disposable makes going to work every day much more palatable. Working because I want to and not because I have to feels incredibly empowering and makes work much less stressful. While I still haven’t taken the leap to what I consider the ultimate freedom — making my own schedule — the freedom of being mortgage-free is pretty sweet.

Money

Maintaining a healthy emergency fund and growing my “freedom fund” have always been priorities, but my savings has been accumulating at an even faster rate now that I’m mortgage-free. I’ve also bumped up my retirement account contributions by a few  percent. Woo hoo!

But I’m not just stacking up paychecks and watching my savings grow. I’ve also loosened up the purse strings a bit and let myself buy a few things that I deferred while I was hyper-focused on paying off the house and turbo-saving for my early retirement — like the cool new Chromebook that I’m writing this on. Plus, income from my day job not only supports my own creative endeavors, but also enables me to support my favorite writers and creators by purchasing their books, subscriptions, and other products.

Health Insurance

After researching my options, I found that decent private health insurance is sooooo expensive, and cheaper health plans have huge deductibles and don’t provide much coverage. My health insurance at work covers pretty much everything and is insanely cheap. And while I’m fortunate to be in excellent health now, I’m not getting any younger. 🙂 

Schedule and Routine

I admit, I’m still not fond of my early-morning, 6-day workweek. That’s probably the toughest part of the job. But the upside (as I keep reminding myself every morning when my alarm goes off at 4:30) is that I’m free most afternoons to do whatever I want — like write, or take a nap. I’ve almost got that whole work-life balance thing down. Plus, I feel a little lost without some kind of outwardly-imposed schedule. After a vacation, I appreciate getting back into the comforting routine of work.

Social Stuff

I like my co-workers, and I have strong hermit-like tendencies. I need to get out of my head and into the real world on a regular basis, and work forces me to do that. If I didn’t have a job to go to every day, I’d probably never leave my house. Except maybe to go to the liquor store. That would be bad.

So maybe I’m a weirdo, and maybe I’m just scared to make a big change right now, but while I’m figuring out my next move (if I even have one), I’m embracing my current reality and enjoying the ride. I make a conscious effort every day to focus on the many positives of my situation instead of the few negatives. Practicing this kind of mindful acceptance isn’t always easy, but I’m learning to be happy where I am and not stress about it. It just feels like the right thing, for me, for now.

~PEACE~

How I’m Beating Resistance, One Word at a Time

fashion legs notebook working

Photo by Stokpic on Pexels.com

My biggest writing hurdle has always been consistency. I get “inspired” to write for a few days, or weeks, then lose my motivation just as quickly, and avoid the blank screen for months, even years.

The longer I stay away, the harder it is to get back. I’ve abandoned plenty of half-written blog posts, and filled dozens of notebooks with my private handwritten ramblings, but my blogging has remained at a standstill for over a year.

Why does this happen?

Anyone who’s ever embarked on a creative endeavor knows the paralyzing fears and self-doubt that plague most all creators. In The War Of Art, Steven Pressfield even gave them a name: RESISTANCE.

The voices in our head are rarely positive or encouraging, and we believe the cruel lies they tell us. Our inner critic feeds our fears and tears us down until it’s easier to just give up than to create.

So what am I gonna do about it?

One of my strongest beliefs about developing good habits is that making small, incremental changes is far more effective for producing permanent results than big, drastic, all-or-nothing efforts. To quote one of Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood:

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”

Slow and steady really does win the race. This approach has helped me manage my finances, health, and home for years, so why not apply it to my writing?

That’s it! I will steadily chip away at my fears / writer’s block / RESISTANCE by writing at least 100 words every day for the remainder of 2018. A hundred words isn’t too intimidating or time-consuming. They don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be written. 

Honest words. My words.

I will dig my way out of this deep, dark hole — ONE WORD AT A TIME.

And if you find yourself languishing in the same hole, I hope you’ll start digging too. 

~PEACE~

What color is your collar (and does it even matter)?

Here I am with my buddy Norm, proudly rockin’ our blue collars!

 

This week, workers around the globe united to celebrate May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day.

For most of us, what we do for work is an integral part of our personal identities. It defines who we are. We love to label and judge each other based solely on what we do to earn our paychecks. I like to call this common practice Job-Snobbery, or Job-ism. The Minimalists described this modern cultural phenomenon beautifully in their popular essay Life’s Most Dangerous Question: What Do You Do? 

 

Once you scrape away its cheap gold-plating, however, you’ll find a series of irksome inquisitions lurking beneath the surface. Sadly, what we’re actually asking when we posit this malefic question, albeit unknowingly, is:

How do you earn a paycheck? How much money do you make? What is your socioeconomic status? And based on that status, where do I fall on the socioeconomic ladder compared to you? Am I a rung above you? Below you? How should I judge you? Are you worth my time?

So many labels!

Working class, middle class, blue collar, white collar. But at the end of the day, and at the end of our lives, does any of it really matter? Why do we look down on some occupations while we put others up on a pedestal? If we all “have to” earn a paycheck, regardless of whether we make $25k/year or $250k/year, aren’t we all really just “working class”?

The grass isn’t greener.

If you’ve ever switched careers, or even had more than one job in your lifetime, you know that every workplace and every position has its pluses and minuses. No career path is entirely free of issues, obstacles, or annoyances. A bad boss is a bad boss, and Mondays are still Mondays, regardless of the size of your paycheck or the prestige of your title. Whether your collar is white or blue, the grass isn’t any greener on the other side.

We’re all in this together.

And we have more in common with each other than we think. So if we’re ever going to find happiness in our life’s work, we need to drop the superficial labels and the hierarchical ranking system, focus on finding the work that works best for each of us, and not give a f*ck about what anyone else thinks of our choices.

~PEACE~

Benefits

goldenhandcuffsLast week, I received my 2017 Personal Statement of Benefits from the US Postal Service. It seems that, whenever I start to seriously consider quitting my job, they somehow sense that, and mail these yearly reminders out to all of their employees. Damn them.

The benefits statement sums up, in numbers as well as with pretty charts and graphs, exactly what our jobs are worth, beyond the basic annual “cash compensation.” They factor in the full dollar values of our health insurance, life insurance, pension and other retirement contributions, Social Security, Medicare, and paid time off (holidays, vacation, and sick days). In the end, they make the job look pretty darn good – at least on paper – and infinitely harder to walk away from.

They also include our earliest eligibility dates for retirement. Mine is in 2027 – 10 years away. Wait. I can retire in 10 years, with a pension and health insurance?! How could I possibly be that old? Do I think I could make it that long? Right now, I don’t believe that I could.

But then again, I never thought I’d make it this far either.

I’ve been working at the post office for a little over 10 years already. I just kept telling myself, “One more year. One more year.” And here I am. This year is a little different, however. If I stay “one more year,” my house will be paid off next summer. My husband will be old enough to qualify for Medicare(!). My savings account will be that much bigger. And if I wait until next year, I’ll be able to leave my job debt-free and in a much better position to enjoy my hard-earned freedom without any big financial obligations hanging over my head.

But then again, I’ll be another year older, physically and mentally. Ugh.

I don’t know. I’m on the fence and swing back and forth at least a hundred times a day. Another year could make a huge difference in my finances. I also get a lot of paid time off, and if I use it wisely, I could minimize my 6-day workweeks for the next year and slowly ease myself into early retirement.

And what if I decide to stay even beyond that? I wonder what it would feel like to go to work every day because I want to, not because I need the money. Could the knowledge that most of my income is disposable lead to an entirely different sense of freedom: control and security, with benefits?

But then again, golden handcuffs are still handcuffs. Ouch.

I keep reminding myself of how lucky I am to be in such a predicament. It’s good to have the luxury of choice, although constantly reevaluating my options is exhausting. Either way, I know I’ll be just fine. The timeline is getting shorter. So I think, for now, my new mantra will be “One more month.”

We can do this!

~PEACE~

Looking for a Sign

Here I am in 2017, still working at the post office. Every day, I keep reminding myself of all the reasons that I continue to work there:

  • My coworkers
  • A nice bi-weekly paycheck, direct-deposited into my bank account
  • Health insurance
  • A pension (if I can stay there until I turn 60)
  • Paid vacation days, holidays, and sick days
  • A fairly consistent 35-hour-a-week schedule that allows me to escape the office by noon most days
  • Not being chained to a desk
  • Sundays off

But every day, I’m also bombarded with the reasons that I hate working there:

  • Getting up at 4:30 a.m. (despite my inner body clock’s protests)
  • Working 6 days a week (including every Saturday)
  • The 25-mile/25-minute commute each way (in what seems like daily snowstorms lately)
  • Recurring bouts of fatigue, sickness, and depression
  • Office politics
  • Management
  • Mind-numbing repetition and drudgery
  • My dry, cracked, filthy hands (and Oh My God the paper cuts!)

But the biggest deal-breaker for me? Complete surrender of my personal freedom and the inability to make my own schedule.

For the longest time, I think I’ve been waiting for some kind of sign to tell me that it’s time to finally move on. I wasn’t sure what form that sign would take, or if I’d even recognize it when it came. But last week, as I was stuffing mail into PO boxes, it finally hit me, like a lightning bolt out of the sky:

I dream about quitting my job EVERY DAY.

In fact, I spend hours thinking about:

  • When will I quit?
  • How will I quit?
  • What do I need to do to prepare to quit?
  • How much more money should I have saved?
  • How soon can I pay off my mortgage?

The list goes on and on, and the thoughts swirl around and around. I’ve read dozens, maybe even hundreds, of books about it. I’ve made spreadsheets. I’ve agonized and obsessed. For years. And not just at the post office, but at pretty much every job I’ve ever had.

And I finally realized, that’s my sign.

I need to be free. Free to wake up when my body wants to. Free to eat breakfast sitting down. Free to schedule my days as I see fit. Free to go to my nephew’s wedding on a Saturday without a signed permission slip from the postmaster. Free to pursue rewarding work that matters to me.

Ah, Peter. I don’t think I’d like another job either.

My schedule has been determined by someone else since I started first grade — 40 years ago. I’ve worked for someone else for 30 years. Enough! Financial security has always been my #1 priority, but self-employment has always been my #1 dream. And lately it seems like my deepest longings for freedom and autonomy have begun to overpower my insecure needs for a regular paycheck and the promise of a pension.

I’ve built a solid financial foundation over the years by keeping my expenses and debt low and adding to my savings whenever possible, so I know I’m in a good position to take the leap soon without too much risk. I always knew this time would come, and I wanted to be ready for it. I don’t have every detail figured out yet, and I probably never will, but I’m getting closer.

The goal I’m working toward this year is FREEDOM.  And now that I’ve put it out there, I’m counting on you all to help me out, and hold me accountable.

“Leap, and the net will appear.” – John Burroughs

~PEACE~

 

Time to Practice What We Preach

wp-1479075682212.jpgSo we had a presidential election here in the U.S. last week, and the crazy rich guy won. I don’t really get involved in politics. I didn’t vote, because I didn’t like either candidate, and honestly didn’t care who won (or so I thought). I will admit, however, that if I had voted, I probably would have voted for Hillary. I mainly identify as a “liberal,” after all, and I am a woman, as well as a dues-paying, card-carrying union member. I was more than a little surprised on Wednesday morning to learn that Donald Trump would be our next president. Wow. I didn’t see that one coming. Most of us didn’t.

But the majority of my fellow Americans cast their votes for Trump (including my husband!). And you know what? I’m cool with that. It’s done. He’s just one man. What’s the worst that can happen?

Now that the crazy campaigning has finally ended, and the polling and posturing are a thing of the past, it’s time to start practicing what we’ve been preaching all along. Let’s be open-minded and respectful of other people’s views, even when they don’t seem to agree with ours. Now more than ever, we need to work together — stand up, reach out, and be the change we want to see. For real.

Take action. I mean REAL ACTION. I’m not talking about protesting and carrying signs in the streets. Don’t waste your time sharing meaningless memes on Facebook, and signing pointless petitions online. I mean, it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. If there’s one thing this new administration will understand, it’s the language of dollar signs.

Fed up with “unfair” banking practices? Cut up your credit cards and pay cash for your shit instead.

Want food manufacturers to practice GMO labelling? Stop buying from companies that don’t.

Want to take down “big oil?” Heat your house with wood and walk wherever you need to go.

Instead of donating that 20 bucks to some big global charity, give it to your unemployed neighbor so she can put gas in her car to get to that job interview.

We each get to cast one vote for president every four years, but we are faced with dozens of opportunities every day to vote with the dollars we spend and the choices we make. We only have one president, but there are millions of us. Our daily actions, however small, matter. If we pull our heads out of our asses, climb down off of our high horses, and plant our feet firmly on the ground, we can drive more change than any elected official ever will.

Because LOVE still Trumps HATE.

We really are STRONGER TOGETHER.

And MONEY TALKS.

~PEACE~

Is DEBT Always a 4-Letter Word?

Photo "Wiping out debt" courtesy of http://taxrebate.org.uk

Photo “Wiping out debt” courtesy of http://taxrebate.org.uk

According to the 2015 American Household Credit Card Debt Study, U.S. consumers owe a total of $712 billion in credit card debt, and $8.37 trillion in mortgages. The average American household has $132,086 in debt, with $15,310 of that on credit cards. For those carrying student loan debt, the average balance is about $49,000.

OUCH.

Like risk tolerance, debt tolerance varies greatly from one person to another, depending on one’s circumstances, upbringing, etc. Some people seem to embrace debt like an old friend, while others avoid it like a weekend visit from the in-laws.

Financial guru Suze Orman believes that there can be such a thing as “good debt” in certain circumstances: student loans for an education that will improve your earning potential and net worth in the long run; a reasonable mortgage, when it’s managed responsibly and has an end in sight.

The Minimalists, on the other hand, wholeheartedly profess that “There is no such thing as good debt!” Debt is the thing that keeps us stuck in jobs we hate, making payments for a bunch of stuff we don’t need, trying to impress people we don’t know or like. All debt is evil. Avoid it at all costs.

Unfortunately, many people do get in over their heads, taking on more debt than they can comfortably afford. Hopeful twenty-somethings graduate from college with six-figure debt, only to move back home with their parents and work at Starbucks. Young families bury themselves in decades of mortgage debt in order to buy the McMansions of their dreams, furnish them with credit cards, and lease luxury SUVs to impress their equally indebted neighbors, without really looking at the big picture or questioning whether or not it makes sense for them.

While mindless consumerism likely accounts for some portion of this mountain of consumer debt, according to NerdWallet, other economic factors are also at play:

Household income has grown by 26% in the past 12 years, but the cost of living has gone up 29% in that time period. And some of the largest expenses for consumers — like medical care, food and housing — have significantly outpaced income growth.

When cost of living outpaces income growth, debt increases.

It would be easy to say consumers are spending irresponsibly, leaving the recession (and their budgets) in the dust. But it’s not quite that simple.

Personally, I don’t think any type of debt should ever be considered “good.” But I will acknowledge that, in certain situations, when entered into mindfully, with a clear means of repayment and an end in sight, some debt can be used as a tool to improve our lives and help us meet our long-term financial goals.

A small mortgage, for example, can make sense if the monthly payment, including taxes and insurance, is equal to or less than you’d expect to pay for rent. If you’re blindsided by an unanticipated financial emergency without adequate savings, a credit card can be a lifesaver. A small car payment can provide the means to obtain a reliable vehicle to get you to work every day.

What do you think? How do you feel about debt? Is it an important financial tool, the root of all evil, or somewhere in-between?

~PEACE~