Tag Archives: reflections

Forgiveness is a funny beast

Snowy plants close up in field

Recent events have brought me closer to and further from various people in my life.

It’s gotten me thinking a lot about forgiveness.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve known the power of words. I can barely recall a time before I could read and write.

It’s strange, the things – actions and words alike – that I never thought I’d forgive. But looking over my shoulder, I realise that somewhere along the way, I did. It wasn’t a conscious choice.

And conversely, there’s the words that have actually stuck with me for decades and that I don’t think I’ll ever let go of. The funny thing is, I don’t think the people in question realise what impact those throwaway comments had. That’s why I’m so careful about what I say (and write).

Then there’s the things we say in emotional moments that are actually quite manipulative or malicious. We are all flawed, but it’s deeply disappointing  to see this in those closest to us.

Words matter.

While actions do speak a million louder than words, for me it’s words that actually stick in my memory, that have lasting impact, and will refer back to when the actions start to fade from memory.

There’s a lot of things I need to start to forgive and let go of, before they eat away at me.

Or failing that, in the words of Emily Yoffe, I must accept them and move on.

The 5 things keeping me sane right now

starry-skies-at-night-shot

The name of the game, at least for the foreseeable future, is stress management.

Ever heard of active relaxation? Oh, how I love a good oxymoron, but I think this is exactly what I need to be doing. I will report back.

Other things currently saving my sanity:

Running

I’m so thankful to live in a nice neighbourhood with quiet streets, ringed by a coastal bush track. That first glimpse of the sea whenever I head for the trail gets me right to my happy place.

Music

I’ve been on a playlist making binge lately (Guilty pleasures! Rock ballads!) and I’m not even sorry. My commute is basically measured in songs, as are my runs.

Introspection

I’m devouring advice columns at pace. Cheryl Strayed, Mark Manson, Captain Awkward, Ask Polly. If you know of any more along those lines….

People

After so many months of not being able to face other humans outside of work, half the time now it feels like there’s nothing I need more than social contact. Bless the friends who know that life gets away from us sometimes, and pick up right where we left off, be it text, email, or in person. And amazing coworkers and bosses – seriously.

Blogging

Possibly the best thing I’ve ever done. A chronicle of the highlights, the lowlights, the spending and earning. Blogging taught me to negotiate and made me some true friends.

Outside perspectives are so valuable when you’ve lost all sense of orientation. I know none of you can possibly know everything, and so I take them for what they’re worth, but the insights that even readers I’d never known existed until recently have offered have been amazing. I do not exaggerate when I say that comments and emails have honestly made me cry in a good way.

How is your 2016 shaping up? What’s rocking your socks right now?

Let’s see what happens when I choose myself

A goal without a plan is just a wish - NZ Muse

I can’t recall ever being so excited for a new year.

For so long I’ve been putting others first, to the detriment of my own physical and mental wellbeing.

All it’s served to do is drain my bank account and reserves of patience (and let’s face it, neither were all that flush to begin with).

No more.

Resisting that caretaking urge, to take over things, to handle them, goes against every instinct I have. But it must be done.

It’s easier to achieve when you have focus on a singular mission. This year that’s my own health and happiness.

After all, the only good things that happened last year were the things I made happen. Funny that.

The intersection of capability and circumstance (in personal finance)

financial capability nz

A few months ago I accepted a new position that perfectly suits my nerdy, money-loving heart – one with the overarching aim of helping people get ahead financially.

Very early on, I got to attend a particularly enlightening conference (the video below comes from that) and also a community workshop in a lower socio-economic area of Auckland. Let’s just say the challenge is huge. More than ever, I’m coming to understand the complexity of the issue: it’s not just about individual efforts and bootstrapping, it’s about human nature and psychology – and of course, the wider system.

In a country like New Zealand, where the cost of living is pretty astronomical, budgeting can only take you so far. Where housing costs are out of control, home ownership is spiralling out of reach, the rental market is squeezed and the condition of rentals is a public health issue. Where public transport is pretty abysmal, and low-income households often lack access to a vehicle, and therefore, supermarkets and healthy food options. Where certain cultural norms mean that family can either be a boost or a drag, holding individuals back from getting ahead. Where high burglary rates mean frequent setbacks, unless you can afford excellent insurance. Where people being locked out of the property market today is going to have huge ramifications when this generation reaches retirement.

True, some people don’t have huge lofty goals and aren’t particularly interested in ‘getting ahead’. But we can’t get away from the fact that we live in a capitalist society, and you need money to exist in it. Inflation is a fact of life; things are only ever going to get more expensive. We’re already a low-wage economy, and if your income remains stagnant, you’re going to wind up at the wrong end of the inequality gap – a yawning gap that’s only growing. I for one don’t want to wind up being a burden on society. So I was really happy to see a session on upskilling and increasing your earnings as part of that community programme, because spending is only half of the equation. It doesn’t matter how good you are at budgeting, if you don’t have enough money coming in, you’ll never get ahead.

 

Sure, let’s build financial capability so people are better equipped to deal with whatever circumstances life may throw at them. (Pretty much everyone can and should be doing better, to varying degrees.) But it’s about more than that. Health, family, educational, church systems – all contribute to financial wellbeing. IMO so much hinges on those early years; if you start out behind it’s a lot harder to catch up and overcome setbacks. And the worse that things are for you now, the harder it is to think about the future.

(For one of the best posts I’ve read on this topic, head over to Frugalwoods.)

I’ve been fortunate on the health, employment, family fronts. Not everyone has the luxury of that kind of head start. You need to be able to get ahead of yourself in the first place, to get ahead of your paycheck, build up a buffer, get a reliable vehicle, secure your housing situation.

And yet, I came on board at a personally tumultuous time, financially speaking. By the CFSI’s reckoning, I was probably a bit closer to Financially Tenuous rather than my usual Financially Striving. It was so, so hard to come into work every day, think about personal finance, listen to coworkers’ tales of buying houses, all while shit was falling apart in my own life. Despite that, I’m so happy to be doing what I’m doing. I feel like it’s the perfect time to join the fray – financial capability is on the political agenda, recent legislative changes have improved consumer protection around credit and disclosure, and we’ve only just begun.

What is happiness, anyway?

A is for Angst

“Are you happy?”

For someone who professed to be terrible at giving advice, he was a ninja of tact. When in doubt, and pressed for an answer, simply rebut with a question in turn – it’s a fail safe tactic. Particularly when you’ve been put on the spot by someone you don’t know all that well. Oops.

The problem with the ‘are you happy?’ benchmark  is that happiness isn’t static. If we all did what made us happy in the short term, well, the world might be a very different place. It’s called adulting.

“Happiness is fleeting and at times elusive. We won’t always grasp it, and we’ll forgive ourselves if we don’t. Our lives might not always be happy, but they will be full with experience and with one another.”    (via A Practical Wedding)

The struggle

I’ve been finding happiness in the little moments. But I don’t know if those are enough. I don’t know if that makes up for the overall instability of our current existence – because this is my LIFE, and I’m the only one who has to live it and the only one who can take full responsibility for it.

I can’t tell if I’m cold or codependent (that probably changes from moment to moment). I can’t tell if I’m expecting too much and need to learn to roll with the punches or if I’m an idiot for sticking it out so long. I feel like I could paint at least two very different pictures, two very different interpretations, of the past few years, and I honestly don’t know which would be the more accurate. I don’t know where to draw the line, because there is no clear demarcation for these kinds of things.

From a wholly pragmatic perspective, I should have walked months ago. I tried, sort of. But I’m very good at that womanly thing of Putting Others First. Too good.

The question I’ve been asking myself a lot is: How do you know? There are things we’ve been taught are dealbreakers in relationships. But for most of us, it’s not that clear cut. So many times I’ve just wished for someone to tell me what to do, and be done with it.

What is expecting too much? What is expecting too little? Am I settling? Am I being unrealistic?

I ain’t saying she a gold digger, but I do require an equal partner.

Truths to live by

It’s insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

Do not expect other people to change.

I am the only person responsible for my own happiness.

(Oh, and the sunk cost fallacy – throw that in there too.)

Words of wisdom

I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in a lovely comment left here some months ago:

“I used to go to sleep some nights thinking I was going to wake up the next morning, pack a suitcase and head to my mom’s and start the separation process. … I also would give myself ultimatums like ‘if it’s not better by this date I’m leaving’”

I remember reading somewhere – I suspect in a post about unconventional relationship advice – that you must be willing to walk away. Now, I know it’s commonly thrown around that people just aren’t committed enough today and that they give up too easily or expect perfection. But to be frank, I’ve yet to see a single example of this in the lives of anyone I know. We’ve all got the opposite problem – we don’t know when to walk away. We hang on for all we’ve got.

I thought I was willing to walk. But it took months to actually muster myself to that tipping point and look over the edge.

And I can’t lie, the terror I felt was almost paralysing.

Being there, though – that was a turning point. I was making plans. I was saving listings on TradeMe. I went and looked at another place to live. It wasn’t just an option; I was committed to leaving. (Not necessarily the relationship, but definitely the living situation, for many pragmatic reasons.)

What changed my mind? So many little things, barely on the spectrum at all, really – a toothbrush, an unexpected encounter – but enough in aggregate to drive me into even deeper contemplation. Ultimately, a third path started to crystallise. I ran scenarios, crunched numbers. I thought I found a way to get what I wanted, without having to shake up my entire life right now. A win-win, as they call it. There’s nothing quite like feeling backed into a corner, and finally seeing a sliver of light in a new option as it reveals itself.

Moving forward

The most important thing is not my marriage. It’s ME.

I certainly haven’t been acting like it. But once I finally cemented this in my mind, things became a lot clearer.

Again, this is my life. I only get one, and I’m the only one living it. There are things I cannot control in it, things that have made life quite miserable. But there are other things I can control, and can change, to mitigate that. Sour as that lemonade is to swallow, it’s not as bitter as the lemons.

So, I’m making plans to achieve the things I want. My number one priority is myself. The status quo is unsustainable; a 2016 without progress is unacceptable.

Hopefully the future still involves us growing old together – but if it doesn’t, I have made peace with that. That might sound depressing, but I find this freeing.

Happiness is having a plan.

TL;DR: Money is the most important thing in the world. Don’t believe anyone who says it isn’t.

(Sorrynotsorry if that offends your romantic heart.)

On guilt (and a litany of confessions)

The last few months have brought a lot of tears.

I left a job I loved for a job that I also love, in different ways. I cried a lot about that. I carried a fair bit of guilt about it. But when it comes to career moves, I’ve never regretted saying yes, even though at the time I never felt quite ready to move on just yet. I feel so stupidly lucky to have had not 1, not 2, not 3 but 4 dream jobs in a row, and to tick off working in two areas I really wanted to try.

I’ve realised I’m perhaps not the best at judging others based on first impressions. (Ironic, since I give off a terrible first impression myself.) I feel a little guilty for pigeonholing a few people so quickly, whom I now have lots of affection for.

I couldn’t stop comparing myself (and coming up short) against a couple of peers who I can’t help but feel a bit of rivalry with. I would always feel guilty for feeling a bit smug when they stumbled or came up against hurdles.

I’ve spent so much time pondering what I want and need from a partner. I felt a lot of guilt around balancing my own needs with our needs.

I developed the most inconvenient crush. I felt crippling guilt about this one. I’ve had them before – a guy at uni, a former boss – but in this instance things were different for many reasons. Not to the point I would ever have acted, obviously, but this one just kept growing for some time.

I realised I should have opened up more to friends. I can’t help but feel some guilt for being so selfish, and realising now that we were all separately, quietly, struggling. Maybe we would all have benefited from sharing.

I’m now in the phase of life where people around me are starting to divorce. I feel a little guilty for still being married and also, conversely, for the envy I feel – how much simpler in some ways a single life would be.

I feel guilty for the small, buried part of me that for the longest time conflated divorce with failing. As firmly as I am against staying married when things aren’t right – and hell, so many times I wasn’t sure I was going to make it myself – deep down I would have considered it a personal failure. But I’m glad to be able to say that this is one judgemental quirk I’ve now managed to put to rest, even if the catalyst for this is a sad one.

Bit by by, I’ve let go of all this guilt. It is exhausting to carry around. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Just say it.

No woman is an island

Last week I came out and said something that had been bubbling away in my mind for weeks.

It was the kind of thing I didn’t really think should be said, not just yet, but maybe in some ways, it did.

I’ve been doing this a lot more lately – coming right out with stuff. Uncomfortable stuff. And amazingly, the world isn’t ending.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that nobody else can understand and nobody else is going through the same thing.

It’s so easy to retreat and hide. I spent most of 2014 avoiding people.
When my life was falling apart and there was no light at the end of the tunnel I couldn’t handle it – when everyone else’s lives were going much better I couldn’t swallow the jealousy. Pain is isolating. And it’s difficult to think that when I was wrapped up in my own struggles, friends were quietly going through their own heartbreaks. We’re all coming out the other side  and bringing it all into the light.

(It’s really nice to not feel that way anymore. I know I can’t just hold it all inside again, because I will implode. It didn’t work then and it most certainly won’t work now.)

None of us can say our lives are what we thought they would be at this age. And as young women from Asian backgrounds, I think that’s in many ways extra hard to cope with and to admit.

But it feels good to let stuff out. It’s the only way.

Finally, a movie that’s realistic!

Sometimes in life you have to make tough choices
By: Rocky Raybell

‘Passion trumps all’ is a pretty typical movie trope.

So while watching Teacher of the Year, a 2014 indie film, I was pretty confident I knew how it would end. T agreed, and he is a MASTER of film and TV (he called the twist in The Prestige about 10 minutes in, which really bummed me out.)

SPOILERS FOLLOW!

Mitch Carter is the titular character, a well loved English teacher at a wacky charter school (his fellow faculty are disturbingly hilarious and provide pretty much all the humour). Then he gets a stupidly lucrative job offer to become a lobbyist for an educational organisation. Tough choice, right? He loves teaching and loves his students … but  on the other hand, $$$! As in, more than double!

Why can’t I keep doing this and make that kind of money? he wonders to a another teacher in the staffroom. You can’t. Take the job is her response. Otherwise, he’ll be in the exact same position in 10 years, not making much more, and with all the same frustrations.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague at a previous job shortly before I left. Knowing we probably made fairly similar salaries, she asked, “How do you manage?” I told her I didn’t have a student loan to repay, and was pretty frugal, and she seemed to accept that. And you know what, it WAS fine at the time. It’s one thing to be a journalist in your early 20s. But the older you get, well, the older the whole shebang gets. If you want a family, a home, to sleep on nice sheets, splurge on good food sometimes, take occasional holidays, or have even hobbies (especially sporting ones) … journalism is probably not going to support that.

Everything in the film, IMO, seems to be pointing towards Mitch staking his ground on the passion/mission side and remaining an educator. Everyone at the school, teachers and students alike, love him. His wife fears that the required travel will take a toll on their family, especially their young daughter. But they have another baby on the way, her job sucks, and he doesn’t want to see her ‘killing herself’. Maybe this way, she won’t even have to work at all. This all really resonated with me – how much more squeezed-middle-class can you get?

“This could change my life,” he says. “I’m just trying to decide whether or not my life needs changing.”

It does. In the end, he decides to try for it all. The high paying job AND the perfect family. Maybe he won’t get to see the difference he makes to those high school kids every single day … but eventually you need to put your own family and their needs first.

God, I sympathise. Is a perfect balance possible? No, I don’t think so. But I want to try anyway. Earn more. Love my work. Cultivate my marriage. Have a family.

What was the last movie you saw that surprised you?

The differences between white collar job hunting and blue collar job hunting

White collar job hunting vs blue collar job huntingHere’s a post that’s been percolating for a while, based on observations I’ve made. I’ll broadly differentiate as white vs blue collar, though I’m counting, say, non-office-based sales work here under the blue collar umbrella.

Getting the job

The interview-to-offer ratio

In my experience in the white collar world, employers work hard to shortlist very few candidates and only interview a couple in person. On the other hand, blue collar employers seem to bring people in willy nilly. I am deadly serious when I say T has been to more job interviews in a single week of job hunting than I have in my entire career. So many interviews, so few offers. So much time wasted bringing someone in just for a chat. Ever heard of phone screening?

The sheer difficulty of interviewing

Interviewing when you’re unemployed isn’t too hard, logistically. But if you’re still employed?

Well, for me it’s never been a biggie. I can take my lunch whenever I want and have the flexibility to duck out to appointments during the day if needed, and make time up. For him? Breaks are strictly timed, usually at set times. That makes it pretty hard to get away for an interview during the day, unless it happens to be on the same street. And again, refer to the first point above about the sheer number of interviews required to get anywhere.

On the job

Transport costs

Speaking of that inflexibility, that often necessitates having a reliable vehicle so you can be sure of getting to work on time every day. And if you work anything outside of 9-5, you can definitely write off public transport as an option. Yet it’s probably a struggle – at the very least, when you’re starting out – to afford a decent car. So much irony: low-level job, strict hours, struggling to afford transport in order to keep said job.

Blue collar jobs are much more spread out over the whole city, whereas white collar employment is more concentrated in town. This further complicates the whole transport issue (‘just move closer to work’ isn’t that simple).

Tools of the trade

Even with discounts, we have spent hundreds, if not thousands, on gear and tools and training for him at various jobs. All that on not particularly high wages, really. True, you can take some of these with you to new jobs … but that’s if the stuff doesn’t wear out or break or expire first.

I’ve never been expected to pay for things that I need to carry out my duties at work. There was one time I paid for a design/photo-editing app out of my own Apple account and didn’t submit for reimbursement. DON’T do that by the way! It was certainly not expected, and I kick myself now for that. What was I thinking? (I was thinking that I felt grateful for the salary at my new job and I could easily absorb the cost. NOT the point.)

Sometimes the best parts of life are also the hardest

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  Sometimes the most awesome chapters in life are also the hardest

A friend and I were recently bemoaning the fact that life never feels settled. We would quite like things to be stable and boring for awhile, thanks. But it seems adulthood involves accepting that things are never quite that easy.

In fact, some of the best times in my life have also been the toughest in other ways.

A couple of examples:

Last year felt good for me professionally, but was decidedly terrible for him workwise. I didn’t get to enjoy my hefty raise, as it went towards supporting us both.

Italy was my favourite European country to visit – yes, for the sights, but mainly for the food. Oh, the food – it changed both of our lives forever. And yet, it was also incredibly hard at times. We hit two real low points there: an awful train ride where I honestly thought I would need to continue on the rest of the trip alone, and getting lost looking for our first hotel in Naples, ending with a thrown backpack and a subsequent water leak. Oh, and  a couple of days later (still in Naples) I found myself crying on the street … the last straw was something like being unable to find anywhere that would sell me the train ticket I wanted.

Fate – it gives with one hand and takes with the other.