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Guys, it’s been a hard week. One of those weeks where I’ve retreated into myself and felt really alone – there’s nobody I want to talk to about it and I haven’t even wanted to write about it just yet.

At this stage, I think I’d rather be back in Italy among the sticky fig trees and blasted horse dung and cleaning the chicken coop and at the topless beach that wasn’t. Yep, even in the 30-40 degree heat (I’d never gotten so sweaty in my life) – though on the plus side Europe has a much stronger ozone layer, so I never got burnt like I would here at home.

This week’s links

The two golden rules to travelling while in debt, via Nomad Wallet

The Billfold on accepting financial assistance from your parents (I used to be super staunch about independence but life has beaten me down; I sure as well would accept help nowadays)

Cordelia Calls it Quits is quitting the entrepreneurial rat race

James Robinson on Medium muses about life in NZ vs the US

Thoughts on culture, race and identity, from My Name is Elizabeth

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: A manifesto for realists

cal-newport-boromir-passion

We all know that famous Steve Jobs speech from Stanford – the one where everyone seized on the palatable, soundbitable angle: Love your work. Don’t settle. 

As Cal Newport writes in the early pages of his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, our generation is rather obsessed with ‘following our passions’. But ironically, that’s not at all what Jobs actually did. Had he done that, Newport says, Jobs would probably have wound up as a teacher at the Los Altos Zen Center. Apple was the result of a lucky break, a small-time scheme that took off, albeit one that Jobs no doubt eventually became passionate about later.

What’s actually more important and more telling about that Stanford speech is what Jobs says about joining the dots in retrospect:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Having just finished the book, I’ve got a few thoughts to put into words. Bear with me!

The dark side of the ‘passion’ mindset

Chasing passion is often unrealistic and in many cases only leads to disappointment. Newport cites a few studies to back up this argument:

One surveyed a group of students and found the vast majority did not have passions that mapped to work/career paths – most were instead related to leisure or hobbies.

Another found that among employees who all held the same  administrative role with nearly identical duties, there was a fairly even split between those who saw their work as a job vs those who saw it as a career or even a calling – and those most likely to think of it as a calling were the ones with the most years on the job.

And yet another found that job satisfaction numbers have been trending downwards over time. “The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it,” he writes.

Give, and you shall receive?

What I took away from the book is that mastering your craft – which we should all aspire to – is its own kind of reward. Get so good that people can’t ignore you and will pay you accordingly … and job satisfaction follows.

It’s the same philosophy Newport has outlined on his blog; the book is his attempt to flesh this out with living examples and further depth.

It’s a pragmatic approach that no doubt most of us know deep down holds a lot of truth:

Focus on what you can offer the world, instead of what the world can offer you.

Derek Sivers, ostensibly a guy of many passions who’s done a bunch of different things, is one of the ‘masters’ in the book and is quoted thusly: “I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules: Do what people are willing to pay for.

The law of financial viability, then, is one to bear in mind. I’ll never forget a conversation that went down in our dorm room in Grindelwald, Switzerland. Four of us were sitting around talking: me, T, a ditzy girl from Connecticut and an intense Southern guy who travelled all over the world organising and running races (marathons and ultras). We were discusing how he managed to scrape together a living doing this (he definitely wasn’t doing it for the money) and inevitably, the “passion” word came up.

“So, do what you love and the money will follow?” Ditzy Girl piped up eagerly, obviously waiting for a high five and rah-rah chirpy confirmation.

But rather than immediately jumping to affirm this, Running Guy paused.

“More like, do what you love and figure out a way to make money from it,” he said seriously.

The missing piece of the puzzle

The biggest thing I felt was missing from So Good They Can’t Ignore You was that vital first step. What do you do if you have NO idea what you want to do? (This is the ongoing problem in our household, specifically on T’s side.) How do you get started? Do you just try to get a foot in the door somewhere, assuming the basic elements are bearable – that there’s some room to grow, you don’t actively hate the industry, and you don’t hate the people – and stick with it, beavering away on the quest to achieve mastery and become a highly valuable professional?

One of Newport’s examples, Pardis Sabeti, touches on this: “I think you do need passion to be happy. It’s just that we don’t know what that passion is. If you ask someone, they’ll tell you what they think they’re passionate about, but they probably have it wrong.” From that, Newport concludes that it’s a “fool’s errand” to try figure out in advance what work will lead to that passion. Alas, that point isn’t taken any further.

Yes, he demonstrates that many of his example ‘masters’ took awhile to find their exact direction, but they generally started down the right sort of track early on; it was just a matter of honing in from there over time. It’s not super clear how they found that track to start with. Newport does acknowledge at one point that it’s very hard to start from the bottom in a new field, so if you’re genuinely floundering, maybe the key is simply finding a field that you can tolerably devote yourself to.

Finally, I don’t think that the ‘craftsman’ approach and the ‘passion’ approach are mutually exclusive. They can actually play in quite well together, which I don’t think Newport adequately acknowledges. Passion, or at least interest, was definitely an element for many – though not ALL – of the examples of happy ‘masters’ cited in the book. Take the screenwriter, the archaeologist, the geneticist. One does not complete a master’s/PhD without at least some interest in their subject! In an effort to draw clear lines and take a strong, controversial stance that sells books, passion gets thrown totally under the truck.

In closing: If you read his blog Study Hacks, you probably won’t glean much more meat from the book. He also gives a good overview in this 99U talk.

Cal Newport: “Follow Your Passion” Is Bad Advice from 99U on Vimeo.

Things I WON’T do to save money on travel

Camp

I don’t consider myself high maintenance, but I do have a minimum comfort level and camping does not meet it. I’m fine with hostels and seedy motels (“How do you always find the most ghetto places?!” T complained to me when we went wandering around east Berlin in search of our hostel) but I’m just not a tenting person. On a scale of 1 to Major Pain In The Ass, setting up and packing down tents rates just above scrubbing the toilet for me.

Hitchhike

First, the realities. I mainly travel with T, and nobody is going to stop to pick up someone who looks like him. I wouldn’t! Even our host in Munich, who’d been urging us to think about hitchhiking around Germany, demurred once we actually turned up and he met us in the flesh.

Even so, I don’t like uncertainty, and relying on passing cars to pick you up is about as uncertain as it gets in travel. (I remember waiting for ages one day for our Couchsurfing guests to arrive and wondering if they were going to turn up at all. Turned out they were at the mercy of hitching, and didn’t have a way to contact us to inform us.) Also not super keen on standing outside for potentially hours on end in any weather conditions to save some money.

Taking flights at crazy times

Super late flights may be a little cheaper, but that’s not the end of the story. There’s nothing worse than arriving  in a new city trying to find your way around in the dark! Public transport may not be running by the time you arrive, so you might have to take an expensive taxi, potentially negating any flight savings. In small establishments the front desk might close at 8pm. And it just screws up your schedule and body clock in general.



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Where do you draw your lines?

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nzmuse link love roundup

Like a lot of people my age, I’m not feeling particularly inspired by any of our political parties right now. Three years ago I didn’t care very much about voting – I barely remember who I voted for. Politics seemed so far removed from my life. What could the government possibly do for me?

Things are so different this year. With just a few weeks till the big day, I realised I’d been holding my breath for some amazing housing policy to come out from some direction . None really has.

Look, I don’t know what policy I want to see; I’m not an expert. (Do first home buyer subsidies work or do they actually backfire? Logically it seems to me they might work in the short term though probably not in the long run – but what do I know? What about a capital gains tax? Again, I’m certainly not qualified to say – I’m not sure if it would do anything to fix our crazy property market, but it does seem weird that we are so out of step with other countries on this by not having a capital gains tax.) All I know is there are sharper minds than mine out there and a big problem to solve: a growing population and not enough houses. Rentals are of disgraceful standards and rents are only increasing. Purchase prices are spiralling; mostly people already on the ladder, who can use their current equity, can buy.

This passage jumped out at me from a post I read this week:

As the world urbanizes, we need to start thinking about how to make cities better, not simply bigger. The primary goal of a city should not be to enrich already wealthy landlords and construction companies…  Urbanism should not be defined by the egos of planners, architects, politicians, or the über-rich but by what works best for the most people.

And with that, to the rest of the links…

A guide to investing in ETFs in New Zealand and Australia – thanks Save Spend Splurge!

Some tips from Landing Standing on recreating meals from your travels at home

Leslie on the difference between giving to/helping out a parent

The best way to be your own boss? Sell advice on how to be your own boss (hah) quoting 3 bloggers I follow – via The New Republic

Why I’ll never buy men’s clothing in NZ again

online shopping nz - buying clothes from the us
By: Images Money

Know what’s always been next to impossible to do here? Shop for clothes for my husband.

I swore the next time we needed to buy anything for him, we’d buy online from US sites, since we know they actually cater to his size.

Although a lot of retailers won’t ship to New Zealand, or charge an arm and a leg to do so, NZ Post has this service called YouShop that gets around this. Basically, you sign up for an account. You’ll then get a US address that you can tell retailers to ship your order to. That address is a giant NZ Post/YouShop warehouse. Once your package gets there, NZ Post/YouShop will notify you, and tell you exactly how much it will be to ship over to NZ (and repack the parcel if, say, it’s been lazily/wastefully packed).

Making use of this, I ordered a few things from Dickies and a few things from Target (with help from Sarah!). Here’s how it shook down, roughly:

  • 3 x Dickies pants, plus a bunch of packs of socks to get the order over the limit to qualify for free shipping within the US
  • 4 x T-shirts from Target – the corny kind T loves, eg Batman, Star Wars, Flash and Iron Man

Total: approx $NZ150 for the items, plus $70 for shipping = roughly $220 in total.

If we were to buy 3 pairs of Dickies in NZ, that alone would add up to about $210. They are about $70 a pop! On the US Dickies site, they are US$30 at full price (we got them on sale at a discount), or about $NZ35 – literally half the cost.

And that’s before accounting for shipping within NZ, either.

So for the price of 3 pairs of pants, we got a bunch of shirts and socks as well, delivered to our door.

You may not be perfect, America, but you sure do cater to people who need to buy stuff.

Jobs I once thought sounded cool

While I think I almost always knew roughly what kind of career path I’d take, there were definitely times during my teens when I wavered, torn between some of my other interests.

Luckily, I saw sense and stuck with the area where I had the most talent – and thus, potential to succeed. Believe it or not, here’s some of the other professions I briefly entertained:

Psychologist

Some things I enjoy giving advice on. Some of those things, I even might be good at – like the more practical things in life. But I’m not really equipped to deal with emotional issues. Lord knows I have my own stuff to handle. I’m fascinated by people and what makes us tick but I’m better observing from the sidelines rather than wading in.

Music journalist/publicist/performer/writer

Late nights for work? Leaving gigs early to write up reviews ASAP? Taking flak from armchair critics? Needing to form opinions about entire albums in a pinch? Not for me. I’m no great shakes as a songwriter, certainly not as a performer, and don’t have the personality to do music PR. And while pegging hit songs is one skill I do have, it takes a lot more than that to become an A&R rep, if those even still exist these days.

Designer

I enjoy fooling around with images for the blog and for work but I’d be terrible at any real design work. I lack visual flair and don’t have a style of my own (just scroll through my archives and you’ll quickly see what I mean).

Financial planner

I don’t think I’m the only PF blogger who’s briefly considered this. Thing is, I’m really only interested in the lower level, psychological aspects, not the serious finance stuff. I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable advising anyone on how to invest their money, and there’s no money in helping struggling people learn to budget.

Software testing

Getting paid to essentially try and break stuff? Sweet! This wasn’t ever really a job I wanted to do myself, but it did cross my mind this might be up T’s alley. Then I started having to do the odd bit of testing as part of my job … and quickly realised how tedious it gets. It’s repetitive and painstaking work that would drive either of us up the wall.

What other careers have you considered, if any?

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Hidey ho, friends!

I can’t remember the last time I went out on a Friday night but I haven’t had so much fun in ages, money be damned. Weekend nights are about the worst time to go out for dinner and a movie but Petra Shawarma was well worth it (typically small NZ portions though) as was The Dark Horse. A stunning, unflinching piece of NZ film work and one I’m so glad we supported it by going to see it at a cinema. Five stars.

In fact, we went to TWO movies this week. Guardians of the Galaxy was nothing like what I expected. Silly good fun, with the most epic soundtrack and music nicely woven into the overall storyline.

Blast from the past

Wow – last time this year we were roasting in Italy. This year, I’ve been thinking about: spending money to get out of the country, eat well and stay warm.

This week’s links

Back in Toronto, Steph at 20 Years Hence reflects on two years of continuous travel

Bridget at Money After Graduation and I agree on this: Your ability to be frugal is limited; your earning potential is not

Paula on the downsides of digital nomadism (slow clap)

An insight into how a chronically ill person does money

Let’s be real: how would you feel if your daughter was a porn star?

100 awesome, groundbreaking women - a worthy Buzzfeed listicle!

Funny About Money on the stuff you just can’t get anymore

The good and bad of a spender/saver relationship, at Making Sense of Cents

I was fascinated by this Ask A Manager thread on moving from white collar to blue collar 

 10 ways you’re making your marriage harder than it needs to be, via A Terrible Husband

The two sides of the freelancing coin, via The Billfold: “I miss having a job I cared so much about. That job felt like it was my career. It felt like I was going somewhere. I don’t know where there is for a freelance copyeditor, fact-checker, and writer to go except on to the next job, the next hustle.”

Our gas heater may be killing me slowly

I’m curious: how much do your power bills go up in winter?

In the summer months we’ve been using 4-5 units of power a day, spending around $40 a month.

In May and June we used an average of 7 units a day, costing $55/60 a month respectively.

In July, that went up to 7.5 units and $70 – a wee bit worrying since we also started using our old gas heater partway through July rather than our inefficient little fan heater, which I thought would save us money on power. Apparently not! Add on the $30 it cost us for a gas bottle (which only lasted us the month) and we spent $100 in this area in July. (More than double our summer expenditure!)

As a reminder, we live in a tiny little house – our flat is one bedroom, one bathroom, with a small, long open space that’s about half kitchen and half lounge.

Add on to this the fact that while reading random things online, I found out that our gas heater may be slowly releasing toxic fumes into the house. It heats up super quickly, which is great, but being an ‘unflued’ heater gives off unhealthy gases into the surrounding areas.

I can testify that sometimes I get prickly eyes when it’s on, and in the past couple of weeks  that old tightness in my chest has returned, much like at our last house.

So, I guess after this gas bottle runs out, that’s it. We’ll be looking for a better form of electric heater for next winter.

It’s galling enough we have to shoulder the burden of heating this freezing place (the coldest yet of several extremely cold places we’ve rented) to a bearable indoor standard. But having our heating source slowly poisoning us? Gotta draw the line somewhere.

God, I can’t wait to buy a house.

Why I’m spending more on food, with no regrets

By: c_thylacine

My twenties have seen me become a lot more picky about food. I’m more concerned with taste and quality than price these days, even moreso after returning from our travels. Sorry to everyone who eats out with me – I know I’m a high maintenance nightmare these days…

Anyway, as a result my regular  grocery shopping habits  have definitely changed.

Healthier breakfasts

I’m a cereal fiend. But while I used to subsist off Cocoa Puffs, Chex and the occasional box of Nutri Grain, nowdays I buy more muesli-style cereal (the flakey type, not the oaty type). It’s a bit hard to swallow when these are often more than $5 a box, but it’s filling and healthy and I can usually find at least one variety on special in any given week.

Better bread

The so-called supermarket ‘bread wars’ have seen home brand bread loaves return to $1 a loaf, but I’m trying to stick to buying quality loaves for the most part. Better bread is way more expensive, but goes a longer way and is better for us. I’m talking brown, grainy and or seedy, rather than the cheap, super refined white stuff.

Fancier staples

I have a new pantry staple. It’s not as crucial as, say, flour or chicken stock or whatever, but it’s definitely a regular in the rotation. What am I talking about? Roasted peppers. A jar, as far as I can tell, doesn’t really work out much expensive than buying individual capsicums and then going through the trouble of roasting them. Having them on demand is amazing. (We once tried this with pre-minced garlic but weren’t really fans – fresh garlic definitely beats the convenience of the jar for us.)

Have you started eating better with age?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on Femme Frugality and brokeGIRLrich*

Where can you fly for $500? $1000? Or more?

Where can you fly for $500? $1000? Or more?

Occasionally, when I have nothing better to do, I like to torture myself dream a little.

Usually that involves looking at house listings; occasionally it starts with me looking at rental listings, but that gets depressing real quick so it never lasts long.

Occasionally I indulge in a bit of travel lust. A lot of that comes to me without me even lifting a finger. I get so many travel emails – Grabaseat alerts, Travelcafe deals, and lots of travel agency offers.

But if I’m so inclined, I head over to Kayak Explore. 

From this screen, I can see what it costs to fly basically anywhere in the world from my city.

So, where does my money get me from Auckland?

For $522, I can fly to Apia, Samoa. (Beaches! Turtles! Rainforests! Markets!)

For $1193, I can fly to Bangkok, Thailand. (Cheap drinks! Fantastic food! Temples!)

For $2,072, I can fly to Vienna, Austria. (The city where Before Sunrise is set!)

For $3,254, I can fly to Vladivostok, Russia. (I’m not sure why I would want to go there … but St Petersburg is still on my wishlist!)

And that is why people go on ‘the big OE’ – it’s just too darn expensive to travel regularly from little old New Zealand when it’s minimum $2k return to the likes of Europe or North American.

Where can you fly to for these dollar amounts?

(Not a sponsored post, but I’d be more than happy to accept compensation … just sayin’!)