Tag Archives: reflections

Will you be better off than your parents?

There’s been lots of talk about how our generation may be the first to be worse off than that of our parents. I’m fairly certain it’s going to be true in my case, and Christmas really cemented for me how huge that gap is.

I swear, I am going to lose it if I hear one more thing along the lines of how we should just buy a house. For the love of god. Anyone who keeps up with the news knows what’s going on, and the latest round of updated council valuations backs that up. My parents’ property is now worth more than 3x what they paid for it – and that’s just the council valuation, which around here is always less than actual market reality. Have incomes also tripled/quadrupled/etc? No, no they have not. I’m not saying it was easy back then, but it is a hell of a lot harder now. There is no way I will have a paid-off house by my 40s in Auckland.

It was a hard year for me and T, and while our family are experts in Not Talking About Things, it doesn’t take a genius or a mind reader to figure out that we’re still nowhere near a down payment, particularly when I VERY OBVIOUSLY shut down the idea of affording a house every time the topic comes up (which has been constantly since we got back to NZ).

Look, there are some things my parents went through that I will never understand. Leaving home and going to university in a strange new country. Being denied promotion outright because of my skin colour, in the country of my birth. Reaching the point of frustration in my marriage where I’m making inappropriate disclosures to my teenage daughter (that’s what professional therapists are for, guys).

Likewise, they won’t understand the lack of job security today, or what it’s like to enter the workforce during a global financial meltdown. And to be fair, I’m not immune either. A growing part of me sometimes just wants to scream ‘how have you gone on that many interviews yet still don’t have a job? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?’

Really, I only feel comfortable discussing successes with them, and there haven’t been any of those to report on in a long time. Maybe it’s a terrible reason to avoid my family, but it’s a sanity-saving defence mechanism.

Rethinking how I see myself

‘Traveller, writer, dreamer.’

That’s the sum of my Instagram account bio.

But I’m starting to wonder if I can rightfully claim that last word.

I was definitely a kid who had her head in the clouds. A bookworm, a day dreamer, with one foot in fantasy land.

One year I came home with my report card, and one of my teachers’ comments was that I was ‘very practical’. We laughed about it, because how far off base was that?!

While we often laugh at dreamers for being off in their own world, on the flipside, I think we also frequently put them on a pedestal. Especially among creative types, we think practical = staid and boring.

But the older I get the more ruthlessly practical I become. I struck out on my own early and I’ve been fending for myself since.

The most surprising thing I learned about myself while travelling was how adaptable I can be. When I don’t have strict plans, I’m more than happy to go with the flow and not freak out no matter what happens.

That said, in my day to day life I am nowhere near as flexible. Normal life dictates planning, and when my plans are derailed I cannot pivot – I find it extremely hard to cope.

Where is this introspection going? I’m not too sure. I guess all I’m trying to say is I’m adjusting to a new perception of who I am (years late?) and how that makes me feel. My inner dreamer still lives, but she’s firmly encased in a thick armoured shell of pragmatism.

You know you’re getting old when…

You know you're getting old when...Your partner points out that you’re now closer to 30 than 20

You’re no longer the ‘baby’ at work – that title goes to someone who is all of 23 years old

You want to run out and throw rocks at loud cars passing by (and at people letting off fireworks nearby)

You seek out greenery to relax in, away from city life

You crave vegetables because your body will revolt if you don’t eat healthily enough

My tag line is ‘on the quest for health, wealth and happiness’. To be fair, it does qualify that with ‘not necessarily in that order’. But health has never been first on my list, in reality. And I think maybe that needs to change a little bit. I consider myself pretty in tune with my body. It’s thankfully always been pretty low maintenance, but is definitely demanding to be heard more and more lately. Some of that is no doubt stress related, but I suspect some is simply an age thing.

On accepting ambiguity: Black, white and all the yawning grey space in between

Crying in the bathroom then walking out like nothing happenedI made it through more than half a year of shouldering the entire burden of supporting our household, alone, without breaking down at work.

During wedding planning, it was flowers that tipped me over the edge. This time, it was waiting on some much needed money because T sent it to the wrong account number – not once but TWICE. The first money he’s earned in months, and it’s stuck in banking no man’s land. *insert every curse word that exists*

If I’m being totally honest with myself, I feel like I lost most of last year to depression and stress. I feel stuck.

There are always choices, even if they’re unpalatable. I have thought about how to get unstuck – separating at least temporarily, or even running away overseas. I’ve considered the options and decided continuing the status quo is the best one.

But I just want to be able to plan. I want to be able to make progress. I cannot set goals or progress towards them the way things currently stand.

I dislike ambiguity at work, too, but in many ways it’s baked into the nature of the job. I can handle it, I’ve learned to cope – but I hate dealing with ambiguity in my personal life.

So, no goals for me this year. Just stay sane and, to quote Dory, keep on swimming.

Three big money lessons I learned this year

I’ve been back in full-time employment for a whole year now, and I’ve been thinking about the place work occupies in my life.

I do not want my life to revolve entirely around work … but that said, I would much rather focus on work than the domestic front. Paid work can be frustrating (and a whole bunch of other adjectives) but I find it so much more personally fulfilling than doing household type work.

If money were no object, I would literally never cook or clean. I would pay to have all that done. Not because I think my time is super valuable, but because I simply don’t enjoy those tasks and I am not very good at them. Eating good food made by others = one of my biggest joys.

On a macro level, here’s what else I’ve been contemplating, more  generally.

Your pay does not always reflect your worth

It’s common sense, and we all know this. You are more than your paycheck. But this REALLY hit home for me this year, having moved out of a field that is notorious for underpaying and overworking.

It seems crazy to me that people like the Starbucks barista profiled by the NY Times work so hard and get paid so much less than I do. Or that some construction foremen can earn less than me when that is objectively a much harder and more important job. And don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly rolling in it; I’m only now making the equivalent of a starting salary in many other fields. Yes, sometimes it’s because the higher-paying role genuinely creates more value/ROI for the business – but not always.

There is a LOT of money floating around out there

I have written about countless funded startups and interviewed both investors and entrepreneurs. T has sold stuff to people with (in my humble opinion) way too much money.

It’s clear to me that there is money to be made – if you can tap into it. That means getting into the right industries in the right kinds of roles.

Money affords happiness

There’s no such thing as ‘broke yet happy’ in my world. Never has been, never will be.

I earn more now. That reduces my stress levels. It enables me to live a more enjoyable life.

I hate scrimping. Don’t get me wrong, I am really frugal by nature, and I suppose that’s why I hate to have to cut back beyond that.

For years I thought T would outearn me – but that’s not how life has worked out.

Strangely enough, an unexpected benefit of what I do these days is that the things I struggled with previously – the external/outward facing stuff, coming up with story ideas – aren’t factors anymore. And for the first time I feel like I have the means to support (financially speaking)  the creative things I love – bands, publications.

New Zealand can offer a great lifestyle, but it’s not a cheap place to live, particularly in Auckland. If I have the opportunity to earn more to fund a better life, then that’s not a route I’m going to turn my nose up at.

Also: at some point, I would like to work someplace that pays bonuses. Just to see what it’s like.

For the sins of our ancestors

All parents damage their children.

One of my earliest memories is being a helpless bystander to an argument between my parents. In particular, at the end of it, being told to choose which of them I wanted to live with.

It didn’t happen. For better or worse, they’re still together, decades on.

In some ways I’m not very good at being in a relationship. I guess I just am not all that good at partnerly communication. In my very first relationship, I became acutely aware of some of the ways in which I behaved and how those habits echoed those of my parents. Years on, I still struggle with those same issues.

Like it or not, I inherited that emotional tempestuousness. It’s probably a blessing in disguise that I struggle to get words out, because honestly, some of the ugly thoughts in my head in my worst moments should never be uttered. I know, even as they occur to me, how hurtful they are, and that they’re not necessarily fair. Succumbing to the heat of the moment would be awful. I don’t want to play that game.

Do you struggle with any particular traits you’ve inherited from your parents?

Leaps of faith: On stepping out into the unknown

leaps of faith nzmuseTwo years ago I was sick with wanderlust, chafing at the bonds of a reasonably awesome life and scared to risk it for adventure. T was a little sceptical and struggled at times but became a convert along the way.

A year ago I came home sated, knowing I’d made the right choice, and ready to get on with the next phase in life. I was content knowing that all things considered, there was nowhere else I’d rather settle down, with memories nobody could ever take away from me – even if, in the case of certain cuisines, those were bittersweet and unobtainable over here :)

It was a leap of faith, leaving. Leaving New Zealand with less money than projections suggested we needed to travel the way we want to travel, counting on earning enough on the road to sustain us. As life would have it, that aspect worked out almost eerily perfectly.

Thinking back, I’d been working up slowly to that big leap of faith. Baby steps.

Moving in with T, early 2007.

Signing on to be the head of a flat, with my name on the lease and relying on 2 other flatmates to pay the rent (which I’ll never do again), circa 2008.

Giving up a good, stable job for a new, riskier one in 2011 (the sign that sealed it for me was the office relocating essentially down the road from our house; I wouldn’t have taken a job at its old, out-of-the-way premises).

Changing industries this year (a series of signs pointed me in the right direction). I worried whether I would be happy; I thought there was a good chance, and my instincts were right – I never looked back.

And in July, we took another leap of faith, deciding T should quit a toxic job - before potentially being pushed out – with nothing else lined up.

It was less than ideal given it would make 2 short-term jobs in a row (the first having ended for reasons beyond his control) and the fact it had taken 3 months to land this one. Trusting that something would come up, and that being free of that mental burden was worth the hardship, was one of those tough calls you resign yourself to when you have an equal partner to consider.

This has not turned out the way I’d hoped so far, but I don’t necessarily regret this. Just hanging on to my core belief that things always eventually work out.

These past two years have been a rollercoaster, really. I never imagined marriage (in our case) would be so exciting – or stressful.

Awhile ago I stumbled across a blog named Surrounded by the Sound. Their last post is from 2013, two years after their return home from a yearlong RTW trip, and their experiences echo ours so very closely … Struggling with unemployment. Enjoying working for The Man and realising the peace that comes with being a steady employee. Relishing life, moreso than before we left. Amy sums up life Pre-Trip and Post-Trip beautifully:

The Trip, as it has become known, seems like a movie we watched about someone else’s lives, yet not a single day goes by without some memory or connection to our trip popping up in some fashion.

Like them, I think we may struggle to define our before-and-after lives. Odds are that our trip is going to be the most exciting thing we ever do; the time period from which we draw all our best stories. While that might come off sounding a little sad, I’m actually okay with it. I don’t need to live an extraordinary life. I want to live a happy life. And for me, that is largely a quiet life.

I don’t know what our next leap of faith will be or when it will come. But I’ve built up those risk-taking muscles and gotten used to gritting my teeth. I know I’ll need to draw on that again at some point, probably when I least expect it. Because … Murphy.

When did you last take a leap of faith?

When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

It’s been well over 10 years since I first saw what real life cutting scars looked like.

I hadn’t known her all that long, but the one thing I did know was my friend, like me, was smart, thoughtful, mature and had a lot going on inside – it’s what drew me to her. I remember being shocked and feeling completely at a loss for the right thing to say.

They say that self-harm is usually about control. Taking back, or regaining a sense of power. I imagine the same is probably true of most other destructive behaviours, from domestic abuse to workplace bullying.

It’s something I’ve never been able to fully grasp. One of those things I got the concept of, on an intellectual level, but didn’t understand on a human level.

And then one day, not so long ago, I found myself sobbing in the car as storm winds outside buffeted the car. Gazing out from the marina over the harbour, where the sea changed from green to blue, as vehicles whizzed over the bridge to the right. As the gusts agitated the choppy waters, I thought about what it might be like to float away. As I gasped for breath, I felt unbearably hollow inside, like there was an empty, endless well of blackness where a beating heart should have been. With nothing there to anchor me in that moment, I suddenly got it. Feeling so utterly helpless and so overwhelmed by emotion, it dawned on me that this was what the kind of thing that would drive a person to turn those feelings inward.

It’s not an epiphany I ever counted on having. Not one I can say I am especially glad I reached, either. It scared the hell out of me.

This is probably where I pause to reiterate that no, I did not seriously contemplate hurting myself. I’m a wuss, I’m squeamish, and I’m vain. I cried like a baby the other day when I slipped and hurt my knee (which was one enormous mass of bruises for at least a week). I find all bodily fluids pretty revolting. I’m still bummed that my legs never fully recovered from all those bug bites in Asia.

The other realisation I had was that maybe I’m not as emotionally resilient as I thought. Oh, I hold it together all right. I’m a hell of a lot better at being an adult than I am at anything else. I have my grownup shit together and I can maintain it pretty easily. But when things are turning to custard, if you crack my surface, you are tapping into an endless pit of tears and despair. It’s hard to judge, of course, but I feel a well-adjusted person would probably be a fair bit more … stable.

It’s a pattern that’s repeated itself over the years. Thinking back to other hard times, I was similarly able to cope day-to-day by withdrawing into myself, but when things really got to be too much, I crumbled like sandcastles. Today, those months are a blur – really, there’s nothing to redeem them, and so I prefer not to revisit those times. There’s no point. I survived, and moved on.

We tend to view the past with rose-tinted glasses. Who wants to look back on a long list of sad or horrifying memories? It’s a sanity mechanism, really; otherwise we’d probably never have more than one child by birth or go on to other relationships after a first heartbreak.

I don’t really think there is a way for me to not feel so acutely. It’s just how I’m wired. For this reason, I try not to dwell. It’s a tricky thing, giving yourself the space to acknowledge and just feel those big, heavy things – without letting them take over and succumbing to them. Generally they don’t tend to respect office hours – metaphorically speaking – so it’s about keeping them on a tight leash. Tucking them away into a little corner and ignoring them, for the most part. Occasionally it all bubbles to the top, and a proper meltdown is then required, but as a rule, fencing them off is what works for me. If I let them fly free all the time, I simply wouldn’t be able to function properly.

When it feels like you’ve hitched your wagon to a losing proposition and everything is coming up tails, there simply isn’t the time to roll over and be swallowed by the darkness.

Going through this in my 20s: hard enough. I simply can’t imagine dealing with this kind of thing at 11, 12, 13, like my friend must have. And my personal darkness is purely situational. The sources of my misery are beyond my control, but shouldn’t last forever. I know the same is not true for everyone else.

The one thing I do know is hurting yourself is not the best way to deal.  When the chips are down, I write. Maybe for you, it’s talking to someone. Whatever your outlet is, find it.

It feels like I’m starting (in the workforce) all over again

It feels like I'm starting (in the workforce) all over again

I’ve been at my job for six months, and as tends to happen, it feels like I’ve either been here all my life, or just a short time.

First and foremost, it’s really challenged me in new areas – particularly my soft skills – and encouraged me to consider what I want out of work.

I’ve also had a jolt of hope that maybe having kids isn’t going to be as bad as I fear. At my first job there were hardly any women, and none with kids – only the men had families. (After I left there was a spate of pregnancies – as far as I know at least one of the women went part time; I’m not sure about the others. News is a tough biz when it comes to work-life balance.) In my second job there were lots of women but they were mainly childless or with older, more self-sufficient kids. My new workplace is overwhelmingly female and mostly young. Initially I assumed most were childless but over the months I’ve come to realise a lot have babies/toddlers and are still really put together and awesome at work.

On top of that, I’ve really had to get used to a different industry and different ways of working.

Communication

I’m used to jobs that are largely self-contained, where communication with other people is fairly straightforward and transactional. Now I find myself working on more collaborative projects and interacting with people in ongoing liaisons.

Even in a flat organisation, projects can get complicated when there’s lots of players. Collaboration gets more difficult with every extra stakeholder.I have never spent so much time re-reading emails trying to decipher them and tease out meaning. (I don’t count the countless inane PR pitches I used to get in a former life – that’s a different ball game!)

I think I’ve become a better communicator since working here, and become really aware of any times when I’m not being as empathetic as I’d like to be. I firmly believe that the best way forward is understanding where everybody is coming from, but even I find myself forgetting that principle in the quest to get things done.

I’ve also come to see what a tough job it must be to run internal comms – keeping everyone in the loop and engaged within a company. This was the one aspect of PR that most interested me at uni, and should I ever move into PR that’s probably the way I’d go.

Culture

Working with people in overseas offices has its challenges. Time zones, for one. Language barriers, for another. Cultural differences. For once, those communication theory classes I sat through at uni have come in handy. (We also had a handy workshop on cross-cultural communication recently that was nothing short of fascinating.)

It’s also made me realise how valuable face-to-face contact is. In so many cases, it’s just so much easier to have people in the same room. Email, phone, VoIP or video conferencing just isn’t the same. I’ve gotten a lot better at talking slowly, that is for sure. Even collaborating with people at our agency, who are less than a 10-minute walk away … sometimes it saves so much back forth when everyone sits down in a room together to hash things out. I’m all for remote working, but it’s certainly more suited to some types of work than others.

One thing I noticed when I came in for my initial interviews was that the super open plan layout had people even closer together than in any of my previous open plan offices – but that people were constantly breaking out and going off to tables and corners for chats and meetings. Having spaces to better facilitate these kinds of collaborations and watercooler chat is so important.

Coordination/Flexibility

I’m been used to having the same basic framework for my work days. It’s true that no two days are the same in news, but you generally know what you’ll be doing from day to day, even if the content is different. You’ve got a newsletter/broadcast deadline to work to, or you’ve simply got to keep a rolling homepage fresh over a shift.

In many ways my work is now more reactive. I often don’t know what the day might hold. And rather than essentially wiping the slate clean at the end of every day (except for when I was working on bigger feature stories), there’s no hitting the reset button now. Ongoing projects stretch out over weeks or months, with multiple timelines in play. I’m not a naturally organised person, but I’ve had to get a lot better at it.

Have you ever had to get used to a totally new field or style of workplace?

Let’s talk about failure

… and success, and how we measure and perceive these things.

Every so often I see updates in my LinkedIn feed from someone I met through work a few years back. He’s reinvented himself a few times. Since I’ve known of him, there was a job that didn’t work out, a couple of entrepreneurial ventures (at least one of which folded) and he’s now landed in another different industry. It’s the type of job people don’t do for love and I realised that every time I see a post from him, I feel a little sorry for him.

On the most recent of these occasions, I paused and asked myself if he would want pity. Somehow I doubt it. He’s providing for his family. And ultimately, what is more noble than that?

Often, we don’t write about failure until we have moved past it and gone on to achieve great things. It makes everyone feel good – the writer can comfortably pat herself on the back and the reader gets a warm fuzzy shot of inspiration. It’s much rarer to read about from right there in the trenches, as it’s happening.

So far, T has failed to get back into sales (the kind he wants to do) – at this stage, odds are it’s just not going to happen – and massively expanded the job search parameters. I have to wonder… how many people (including myself) who say they would do any job, even at minimum wage, would actually be able to pull it off and get hired at such a job? You may not consider yourself above a low level job, but you’re not the one who gets to make the hiring decision.

I haven’t talked to people at work about the struggle I’m feeling. The panic of falling further financially behind every day. The mix of embarrassment and resentment of the current state of things. I listen to the struggles they discuss – their partners’ demanding jobs and stress levels – but it’s tough for me to sympathise. I’d hazard a good guess they’re running on around $150k household incomes (maybe more in some cases), both settled in their careers, not worrying about living in shoddy rentals forever. I know everyone has their own problems, and at least we are fortunate to have our health and some awesome travels under our belt.

The best pep talk I’ve read lately comes courtesy of Seth Godin:

Make two lists.

One list highlights the lucky breaks, the advantages, the good feedback, your trusted network. It talks about the accident of being born in the right time and the right place, your health, your freedom. It features your education, your connection to the marketplace and just about every nice thing someone has said about you in the last week or month.

The other list is the flipside. It contains the obstacles you’ve got to deal with regularly, the defects in your family situation, the criticisms your work has received lately. It is a list of people who have better luck than you and moments you’ve been shafted and misunderstood.

The thing is, at every juncture, during every crisis, in every moment of doubt, you have a choice. You will pull out one (virtual) list or the other. You’ll read and reread it, and rely on it to decide how to proceed.

We recently had a death on his side of the family, quickly followed by a birth just a fortnight later. Both incidents really helped me get some perspective (though I must confess, they also induced a teensy bit of panic too on the finance side).

Sometimes, though, it really seems like everyone else has managed to ride a straight path to success and we’re still mired in the squiggly line.