Tag: Finances

Money Lessons (and Others Learned) from 2016

“We become aware of the void as we fill it.”
― Antonio Porchia

Full disclaimer, this post is going to come across somewhat grim at times, but stick with me here. 2016 was one of our biggest earning years ever, but it also had some decent setbacks in it as well and reflecting over some lessons learned, I’m realizing why financial planning and accountability were such an important topic for me to focus on at the start of the new year: I’m starting to plan bigger.

For a long time the goals we were working towards had a specific timeline and time frame–graduating high school, graduating university, getting a first job, etc.. Our biggest goals were moving to London and start careers there, which we’ve done and are proud of, but even that was achievable in a specific (relatively short) time. Nothing on the future list is really short term any more. We’re thinking about the next thirty to forty years of our working lives, the pros and cons of buying property, whether or not we’re going to try to have kids, if we want to retire in this country or somewhere else…the big stuff.

Even though most people are already working on their Big Plans in some way, 2017 feels like a year where we’re starting to be much more intentional about it. And therefore, some of the biggest lessons learned from last year have been…

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Sh*t happens. From our landlady deciding to sell our relatively cheap apartment to deaths in the family, financial curveballs were thrown. We’re fortunate that we’re young, able to work, willing to work hard, and making enough to cope with hiccups. But being able to cope is not the same thing as assuming from the outset that hiccups and curveballs are coming and being prepared.

Sometimes hard work doesn’t pay off and sometimes plans fall through. Not to throw shade on parents, teachers, and any number of self-help gurus, but I no longer believe in the simple, “work hard and everything will work out” line. Not that this means I’m allowed to throw in any towels, the onus is still very much on me to put my all into everything I choose to do. But what I’ve learned is that sometimes, no matter how much work you put into something, it simply will not go the way you want. Projects fail, jobs don’t work out the way you hoped, people disappoint you, freelance gigs fall through, pitches die on the slushpile.

Related to this point, setbacks and failures are not critical. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m getting older and more wise, or just more practical, but failing at things no longer affects me the way it did in my school years and early 20s. Time was that a rejected pitch would sucker punch my confidence in a bad way. These days with experience and the wisdom of veteran friends, I know that an ignored pitch is not a crisis so much as a typical Tuesday.

That being said, what working hard and working through those typical Tuesdays does ensure is that opportunities keep coming. And even though some of those opportunities end in the slushpile, lots and lots and lots of other don’t! The successes come intermixed, not unadulterated.

Being busy is not being successful. If you are working round the clock and not any better off for it (in terms of your paycheck, health, balance, ambition, or growth) then what you’re experiencing is not success. It’s a quick route to burnout, which is no good because…

There typically is no big payoff, life just goes on. One of the most interesting aspects of the adult world for me was that it doesn’t stop. There is no summer vacation or end of term, there is no finish line or final project. There is no break until retirement, and for my generation even that is up in the air. Meaning that financial plans, career aspirations, skill development, and goals need to have a longer term view than they used to. See opening paragraph.

Being able to afford an indulgent night out with friends, a good apartment, the ability to go visit family in a crisis…those are small, everyday, but important victories that matter and mean we’re mostly on the right track.

Discussion time in the comments. What big lessons, financial or otherwise, did you take out of last year?

The Picture of Success

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”
― Albert Einstein

Once upon a time if you asked me to describe my dream house I’d have given you a roof to basement description of a three level red brick colonial (inspiration via Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia) with a massive lawn and back garden. If it was historic, so much the better. Nowadays, rereading that description, my reaction is a low whistle and the thought, “That sounds like a lot of work!” Growing up a military brat we moved every few years and seldom owned a house. We also didn’t have to put in the effort of maintaining several of our homes as government support services often did so when we lived in base housings. Even when growing up I also had the idea that I wanted to continue to live abroad and travel–what on earth would I do with a massive house in that case!

Not only does the vision no longer really appeal, but more recently I’ve recognize that the idea of a grand house was something more of a symbol for me than an actual goal. In some corner of my mind, the idea had developed that if I were “successful,” that’s the kind of house I’d live in.

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image via Death to the Stock Photo

We all have assumptions about, and unique frameworks for how we view personal success. Mine have shifted a bit over the years, and even now, having arrived in a relatively healthy place, I am constantly checking in with myself and my aspirations.

Jeff has a more financial view of success than I do, which makes a lot of sense to me. He works in and related to financial industries, there is a more traditional track of advancement in his line of work, and salary can be a good indicator of where a person is at in his or her career. It’s a simple but highly informative metric to him. On the other hand, I tend to think success in terms of achievement. This wasn’t always the case, when I was younger I framed the idea of success in certain status markers, like that big house I envisioned. I also used to  measure success by work I accomplish. On the surface this may sound much more zen than Jeff, but with my personality that can sometimes lead to bad health decisions (like burnout), hyper self criticism or other setbacks. I’ve done some pretty amazing things in terms of my writing, and yet some days (usually ones where pitches have been met with radio silence, I’ve lost a gig to a competitor, or I’m just feeling down about myself) I still have to remind myself that I’ve been able to support my family on writing for years, or achieved a byline that many can only dream of. Reframing success through the lens of achievement rather than how much work I’ve done in a given day has been a big breakthrough for me in the past year.

I’m open to the idea of my views shifting again in the future, goodness knows they’ve shifted in the past! I’d certainly like to make more money than I currently do, and perhaps shifting my mindset to a more quantifiable way of thinking for a time might be useful. I think it may even help me build the more long term financial mindset I’m working on. On the other hand, I think most of us have or know someone who has chased only money before and didn’t necessarily end up better off because of it.

What does success look like or mean to you?