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~

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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~

Take One Step Toward Financial Freedom

So many of us say that we want to work less and enjoy our lives more, but what’s keeping us from actually doing so? For most people, the obvious barrier is money. After all, who would go to work every day if we didn’t need the money?

But why do we need all this money? To pay the bills, of course! But wait. Why do we have all these bills in the first place? Umm…

The less money we spend, the less money we need. When we need less money, we don’t have to spend as much time working. The less time we spend working to make money to pay our bills, the more time we have to actually enjoy our lives.

Sounds simple enough, right? It is and it isn’t. Learning new financial habits definitely requires some reprogramming.

A fundamental first step toward reducing our spending calls for an honest assessment of where our hard-earned money is actually going. How much do we spend on the things that we truly need, vs. those that we simply want, or merely like?

For guidance, The Minimalists’ insightful essay NEED, WANT, LIKE breaks down this essential process of separating our basic needs from our various wants and likes (many of which often masquerade as needs in our complicated modern lives), and recommends action steps to move us closer to our ultimate goal of financial freedom.

Everyone’s different, but most of us don’t really need as much as we think. Once we start casting a critical eye on everything in our lives and asking, “Do I really need this?” it’s surprising to discover how often the answer is “No!”

~PEACE~

Cool Podcasts for Downshifters

I recently started listening to podcasts during my half-hour commute to & from work every day. I know, I know… I’m arriving at this party a little late, but this is by far the best new thing to happen to my daily routine in a long time! Why didn’t I think of this before? Now I’m arriving at my day job energized and motivated, with my mind full of new input for my writing and creative pursuits. By the time I get home, I’ve usually jotted down a few new ideas and resources that I can’t wait to research and start working with.

Plus, podcasts are FREE, and soooo much safer than trying to read a book while I’m driving.

Since I’m just getting started, this is my very short list of the podcasts that have inspired me so far. I hope they’ll do the same for you. If you know of any other great podcasts that have helped you find balance, simplify your life, improve your writing, pursue your passions, live a healthier life, or form good habits, please share!

The Minimalists Podcast

In their new podcast, just launched last month, The Minimalists Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus discuss living a meaningful life with less stuff. This is the podcast that convinced me that podcasts were a good idea, so if you need convincing too, start here.

The Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins

As he does in his books, Jeff Goins shares thoughts and ideas that will help you to pursue work that matters, make a difference with your art, and discover your true voice. Episode 003, “How to Chase a Dream Without Quitting Your Job,” is a must-listen. His guest list is a who’s-who of today’s heavy-hitting inspirational speakers and authors. The episodes featuring interviews with Gretchen Rubin (018) and Tim Ferriss (004) are among my favorites so far.

Speaking of Gretchen Rubin…

Happier with Gretchen Rubin

The #1 best-selling author of The Happiness Project shares her practical advice about happiness and good habits in this “lively, thought-provoking podcast.” Sometimes it gets a little corny, and her topics are widely varied, so I’m picky about which episodes I listen to, but Gretchen’s honest tried-and-true advice usually manages to enhance my happiness in unexpected ways.

And Tim Ferriss…

The Tim Ferriss Show

“Self-experimenter” and best-selling author Tim Ferriss “deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, chess, pro sports, etc.), digging deep to find the tools, tactics, and tricks that listeners can use.” I haven’t had a chance to listen to many episodes, but I love everything Tim does, and his wide-reaching guest list – from Seth Godin to Jamie Foxx – is guaranteed to engage and inspire.

Over It And On With It with Christine Hassler

Life coach and author Christine Hassler coaches live callers on the problems – and opportunities – we all face in relationships, careers, health, transitions, finances, life purpose, spirituality, or anything else they have questions about. She uses her signature balance of practical tools and spiritual principles to help us all overcome the obstacles that hold us back from living the lives we were meant to live.

All of these podcasts, and thousands more, are easily accessible via the iTunes store. Happy listening (and learning)!

~PEACE~