Tag Archives: Goals

Good news, everyone!

GoodNewsEveryone

I have good news, that will in no way be bad!

I have a job.

This is, undeniably, incredibly good news that I’m excited to share. But it presents me with something of an existential question – what is the purpose of this, ostensibly an unemployment blog, in a post-unemployment world?

Part of why it’s been so long since I’ve been here last (aside from, you know, the new job) is that I’ve been trying to figure that out. I’ve been just as drawn to writing here as before – if I didn’t know quite what I wanted to say, well, I knew I still had something to say, at least. I know I felt busy though as I was adjusting to the new changes in my day, and I think on some level I might have felt a little guilty, too.

Join me as I talk a little about this exciting news and muse on what this blog is really all about.

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Work and Passion and Whether it Matters

lego-jobPassion and Work have long been thorny issues for me. As in, passion for your work – where to get it, and how necessary it is. Even while fully employed this was a big question for me, and certainly it’s all the more so now that I’m unemployed and spending vast sums of time looking for new work. Work and passion are two things I rarely feel like I have at the same time.

I suppose that’s to be expected – when I’m passionate about my work, it shouldn’t feel like work. But how on earth do you search for passion in a job search engine? There’s no checkbox for that. You have to guess. You have to leap.

Today, before setting out on a walk to collect some thoughts, I read the latest article on MMM. It’s a retrospective from a person named Ethan who’d been in a rough financial position, got himself together and worked hard, and was rewarded with lots of promotions and money. Taking nothing away from his accomplishment, I found myself wishing he’d written a long post right in the middle of things, right when he got his first good job and “forced himself to believe” he was going to succeed if he worked hard. Sometimes stories like that seem to take on a classic rags-to-riches theme, with the lead character changing his or her life by sheer will power and determination. I love reading them, but there’s an emotional struggle that is left out of the narrative. In my experience anyway, sheer will power, while vital, often won’t get me through an emotional block by itself.

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One Month Unemployed – Is This What FIRE is Like?

calendar-jumbleThe first month of my unemployment has come and gone faster than I would have thought. Sure, it’s February, technically the fastest possible month that could go by, but the fact remains. A month of not working, with my days my own – my first such month in the better part of a decade. While I am tracking my spending more than ever, I can honestly say that I didn’t really reckon with the financial implications of being unemployed. Is this a taste of the FI life? Is this bliss?

First things first, despite the lack of a job, mine is not exactly a life of FIRE. Most prominently, I would not be spending hours each week in the pursuit of a job, exploring the market, drafting and sending off cover letters and resumes. And I am aware that this month was more of a “break” from reckoning with long-term finances than any sort of permanent release from it. I still haven’t deposited the last checks I received from my working days, which are sitting in their envelopes a few feet away. The mental break will end and pressure will begin to slowly mount to find something – at a certain point, exploration and pursuit won’t be enough. Finances will have to be taken off the existing auto-pilot and reexamined, then stabilized, for where I am today.

However, I have had a month, and during this month I’ve made exactly the kind of effort to set my own priorities, accomplish my own goals, and own my days that I think I would have made if I truly were FI. My “free” days were perhaps crimped a little with job-related activities, but the overlap is substantial. It’s time to take stock of how that went.

It seems fair to go back to the goals I spelled out when I began this blog to start framing my answer.

1) This Blog. I never give myself a chance to write, and I miss the reflective power of journaling more in my youth (aka, the last time I wasn’t working). I also think blogging here about my goings-on will keep me honest.

Writing in this blog has been a good experience – as with most personal writing that I do, even when it’s hard to drag myself to my desk, I’m happier after I’ve done it. That being said, I haven’t posted a ton lately, which means I get less of the exact happiness I just referred to. I’m happy with my start here, and will be happy to continue it (and more) next month.

2) Other Blogs… One will be geared towards creative writing… I’m also planning to start a blog in [the e-commerce] vein… if I can find a way to approach it that feels honest and not soul-draining. If all goes well, these blogs might earn me a buck or two.

Oof. I get no credit here. I have not started either of these blogs, and I can’t even blame it on burning out from posting here every day. I have thought about both of these blogs, what I’d put in them, how I’d run them, but there’s hardly any visible results. I need to reexamine this goal and see if maybe it isn’t actually so important to me, and if it is, I need to figure out how to, and then commit to, begin getting it off the ground.

3) Home Stewardship… I’ve already begun keeping a sharper eye on my household costs and cooking a lot more. Without being tied to my computer for eight hours, I am now free to take this to the next level. If I do this right, I anticipate I can slash thousands off our yearly home budget, chiefly through the cooking of delicious food.

This one’s gone pretty well. I’ll have the final numbers in a couple of days but there’s no doubt that our food/grocery bill is lower this month than last month. I’ve really enjoyed cooking more, including baking cookies from scratch just for the fun of it, and am further integrating bulk shopping into my routine. I think my main goal is still just to get even better at this.

It’s helpful to look back at these goals because it’s easy to wonder just what I’ve been doing with myself. It’s been a month! As I continue to wrestle with the distractions that prevent me from being as focused – and happy – as I’d like, I have to admit that it’s a work in progress.

A month feels like a long time, but in the scheme of things, it’s not, not for a significant lifestyle change. I’m still doing some paid editing, all that job-seeking, all the extra dishes and cleaning that comes along with doing more cooking, reading more, and slowly decreasing our expenses. I know I could be doing more, but that’ll pretty much always be the case, and it’s key to let that thought feel inspiring, rather than dreadful.

So how’s it been living a life of faux-FIRE? I have been waking up far more often excited by the possibilities of what I will do with my entire day, rather than by trying to remind myself of what I might be able to squeeze into my night after work. I have had more time to spend on things I enjoy, and am much less interested in ever “getting through” a day of my life ever again. I still need to intentionally remind myself to align my actions with my desires, a task not made easier by simply having more time on my hands… it’s hard to say whether I’m doing better percentage-wise on that score than I was when I was employed, and that’s an area of continued focus.

I imagine that would be my central challenge in a life of FIRE. Though I’ve come to realize how good they can be for me, I’ve never been particularly successful at getting routines to stick.

One month in, and though I am a long, long way from FIRE, it’s interesting to reflect on this time as a bit of a case study. It’s not without its challenges, but unsurprisingly, I think I’d like it. That’s going to take getting back to work and building the ol’ stash up though, because it’s a marathon, not a race. We all just have to keep moving as steadily as we can.

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A Workday without Work is Still Just a Day

hourglassWhen my father first semi-retired, he commented about how quickly his days still went – they just filled up. You might sleep a little later, move a little slower, do a few day-to-day chores and suddenly find that half or more of your day is gone. He un-semi-retired shortly later, working much of the day, and I’m pretty sure getting just about as many of those “chores” done. This is one of the conundrums about ceasing to have a standard job – in theory you have gained an enviable and near-infinite pool of time, but in reality you may not get that much more done.

Though I haven’t spoken about it much yet, I’d love to be among those who can hit a reasonably early “FIRE” date (Financial Independence, Retired Early – the short version is not having to work for money, longer post forthcoming but check out MMM for an idea). I imagine myself one day, freed from obligation to work for my living, suddenly awash with time to do everything I’ve always wanted to. Yet I find myself in more or less that position today – while I have a little part time work, if you measured my day only by my paid hours, you’d probably tell me I have just about nothing to do.

So what have I done? How haven’t I fulfilled all the goals I set out on day one, starting numerous blogs, cooking daily, writing my fiction and economically chopping yet more and more dollars off our home budget? Ok, it’s obvious that accomplishing every goal by day four isn’t realistic. I have returned to at least this blog daily, applied to a job or two, brought the sink up to above-average cleanliness, shoveled quite a bit of snow, laundered clothes, did some paid editing and consulting, trimmed $10 off our Verizon bill (FYI, if you use <10GB, prices dropped today, but they won’t tell you so you have to claim it)… I clearly did some things, but it still feels a far cry from the bounty I should have achieved in 32 hours of glorious non-workday thus far.

This is where I need to remind myself that there are only so many productive hours in a day, paid-with-benefits or not. I’ve never been a master of efficiency, though it’s something I continue to improve on as I understand myself better. Don’t tell my previous employer, but outside of maybe one day a year, I don’t think I ever worked eight consecutive productive hours (which of course nobody does). However, with a job, whether it takes you four hours or six or eight, when you’ve completed your work you’ve done a day’s work. What’s a day’s work now? I’m still figuring that part out.

One of the keys I take away from my father’s experience is that it can be helpful to treat your lack of employment more like you would a job – push yourself to wake up early and move with purpose – but it’s wrapped into a lesson that there are only so many hours in the day. This is both a forgiving realization and a burning motivation not to take time for granted that I will try and keep with me.

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Seeing Discipline as a Good Thing

When I think of the word discipline, I think of what negligent parents are instructed to do to their kids to keep them in line, or of memorizing multiplication tables. It’s a term that grates against what I like to think of as my creative and rather whimsical personality. While I’ve always loved structure, the idea of discipline has always gone hand-in-hand with the concept of routine, of boring, lifeless monotony. Of course, anyone will tell you that discipline is the way just about anyone gets good at anything (even artists), and I knew this. Still, the process of coming around to the notion that discipline and routine themselves are good, rather than just means to an end, has been a long and ongoing one.

In the weeks leading up to my layoff, I’d begun making a special effort to reinforce some good habits and routines I wanted to cultivate. I’m an inveterate time waster, so these were things like going to bed when I had nothing left to do, getting out of bed when my partner did rather than going back to sleep, and procrastinating productively by accomplishing small tasks like doing the dishes when I needed a break from work. This was essentially yet another attempt to break long-held habits from my college years, where staying up late, sleeping in, and doing nothing for as long as it was possible were basically virtues. In any case, those couple of weeks in January were among my more successful efforts, but then I got laid off, shattering key parts of my routine and eliminating a certain amount of outside accountability.

College-me would have glorified my newfound ability to collect unemployment while doing nothing, but present-day me valued routine and had a pretty good time of it yesterday, getting up early and setting out goals. I didn’t accomplish them all, but I felt all right about the way things had gone, and was eager to start to set myself in some productive patterns.

Then today came, and I slipped. A late and meandering start basically sucked up my morning, and I know from experience this feeling of getting behind can send me on a multi-day bender of self-destructive frustration and avoidance. I rallied around midday, aiming to replace the downward spiral with an upward one, and am proud of my afternoon. But it’s a reminder that this foundation is shaky, and success during this time will be built on the wide, steady base of discipline and routine over time.

Discipline is why I’m posting again for a second consecutive day, but it’s also why I’m doing so when I have to leave the house in mere minutes. It’s a powerful thing to master, and if it wasn’t already, it’s definitely going to be one of my biggest challenges as I seek to make the most of that good pink slip.

 

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Day One – This Blog Begins

I’m unemployed. In a word, that’s why I’m here, blogging. I’m not completely sure what this blog’s about yet, and on a certain level that’s worrisome. On Friday I was employed, but today I’m not. So what’s my plan? How does this blog fit in?

I’m taking this period of unemployment as an opportunity, as a chance to explore what it’s like not to work. At the risk of sounding lazy, I’ve kind of wanted to not work for a long time. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of things I want to do, first and foremost among them support myself and my family as it grows. I have a few things in mind that I think I want to start off with as I find myself with my first fully unemployed day in my adult working life (note, I am in my early thirties, so this is perhaps not an exceptionally long time except to me).

1) This Blog. I never give myself a chance to write, and I miss the reflective power of journaling more in my youth (aka, the last time I wasn’t working). I also think blogging here about my goings-on will keep me honest.

2) Other Blogs. See #1 above for why I’m inclined to start more blogs. One will be geared towards creative writing – I was (and still am, so I guess I’m still kinda employed) a part-time editor, so this will get me to share my own work, and also tips, ideas, book reviews, etc. In my previous employment I worked in e-commerce, so since I know it, I’m also planning to start a blog in that vein, perhaps a deal of the day sort of thing, if I can find a way to approach it that feels honest and not soul-draining. If all goes well, these blogs might earn me a buck or two, which would be great.

3) Home Stewardship. This is probably the most immediate and effective way I’ll be able to affect my family’s bottom line without “working”. Since encountering sites like Mr. Money Mustache last fall, I’ve already begun keeping a sharper eye on my household costs and cooking a lot more. Without being tied to my computer for eight hours, I am now free to take this to the next level. If I do this right, I anticipate I can slash thousands off our yearly home budget, chiefly through the cooking of delicious food.

I’ll also be keeping an eye on the job market and continuing to maintain and acquire part time work, because while I would have loved to name this blog “Last Pink Slip,” the fact is I’m going to need to work at another job, or at least gain reliable additional income, for a good while before I can consider myself financially independent. Regardless of if/when I go back to work, it’s my hope that this opportunity will give me lessons in self-understanding, household management, and even side-income doing work I love that will last a lifetime.

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