Life Is At a Standstill… Run a Marathon!

May 6, 2009

I am a serial hobbyist. I’ll admit it. Growing up, my parents had at some point enrolled me in violin lessons, piano lessons, flute lessons, art classes, karate,orchestra, and choir. Some of these things were short lived, others I’d done for almost 10 years. Aside from those extra curriculars, I picked up other hobbies of my own such as building my own websites, playing with Photoshop, and burying myself in the internet. Yes, I started young. :) Most of the wonderful lessons and classes I took were abandoned as soon as I entered college, but that doesn’t mean the hobbies stopped there. My love for art, technology, and music later prompted me to buy a guitar, buy a DSLR to start taking pictures, buy a tablet for my computer so I can further dabble in digital art… and contemplate buying a video camera so I can mess around in video editing. Yes, I am a serial hobbyist… perusing online hot deals did not help the cause as most of those purchases were the results of spotting a hot deal somewhere.

However, with all those on my plate there are still times where I feel like life is at a standstill. Even when work is going well, my personal relationships are great, I am happy… but life has stopped moving forward. Probably because I have not picked up a new hobby, made a new big purchase, reached a goal, or achieved something brilliant in a while. A couple months ago, I found myself in that state. I was stuck in a rut. I yearned for something new, but I knew I could not pick up a whole new hobby… and I was not in the mood to nurture an existing one. Or so I thought.

It was nice one day, so I asked a friend to go jogging.. and then almost instantly regretted it because a couple months prior to that, I had attempted a 5k and while I finished in an okay time, I had trouble just completing that without walking. I work out regularly so I thought I’d be in better shape to complete the race, but it was just an off day for me. Well, this day was different. I absolutely hate backing out of things, so running I went. To my surprise, I completed just over 5 miles and felt able to keep running. That day, I decided to sign up for a half marathon and start training.

Fast forward two months, I have just completed the La Jolla Half Marathon, which has a reputation for being extremely tough due several hills in the 13.1 mile course. I know I might have found a niche because even in pain, even during rough hilly runs, I keep wanting to do more. I never once felt discouraged in my 2 months of training and am seriously considering on doing a full marathon next. It isn’t a new hobby, but rather an extension of something I’ve always incorporated in my life (fitness). And for that reason, I realized that it was perhaps the perfect new thing for me to pick up. While before, working out was just something I did, I now do it with a rewarding goal in mind. I’ve turned something that was just routine into something that I can constantly work towards, and if I continue to train for races then each race is a new milestone I’ve reached. I’m excited for what’s to come, and I encourage all of you who may be feeling a little less motivated to find something within your life and see if you can bring it back to life. It’s great =)

La Jolla Half Marathon Elevation Map

La Jolla Half Marathon Elevation Map

-debs

Advertisements

Travel now, work later

April 27, 2009

A debate that often comes up within my circle is the use of vacation days. For the intrepid careerist, the thought of appearing lazy so early in their career is a sacrifice they are not willing to take. Or to others, the ability to pay out vacation time is even more enticing. If you’re the type of person that thinks that a weekend trip to Santa Barbara or Las Vegas is enough, then you are in an ideal situation where this advice doesn’t apply. But if a two week jaunt across the globe seems short, travel now before it’s too late!

For the past decade, people have become fixated on retirement. The idea was that people would invest wisely in their Roth IRAs and 401Ks, retire in their mid-40s, and spend the rest of their lives finally doing what they wanted to do.

Let’s look at this best case scenario. You’re in your latter years, fortunate to have enough money to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip to see the Amazon River. But your significant other can’t leave their job for too long and your kids only have two weeks vacation for winter break. So you end up taking a two week package tour that stops by the river, and your dream is disappointingly realized when you look out the window of a luxury ferry while your kids eat cheeseburgers and drink shirley temples. Travel will only become more difficult as you become older and have more familial responsibilities or people you have to cater to.

Now for the second scenario. I went to a business lunch with some of my colleagues and we were discussing an executive who had gone on vacation. He was in his late 50s, and had not taken a vacation in over five years. He was taking ten vacation days to go to Europe, but even this was deemed a career risk. The reason? He was afraid that someone else would fill in to complete some of his tasks, and he would be viewed as expendable. You may be busy now, but assuming you climb the job ladder, your work will only become increasingly important.

Go to Japan and attend an entire Nihon Sumo Kyokai Grans Sumo tournament. Follow a leg of the European tour of one of your favorite bands. Complete the Tour de France with a group of friends in September. Train in Muay Thai kickboxing in Thailand. There isn’t a better time than now.

Cava di Isolla, a beach on Ischia

Cava di Isolla, a beach on Ischia


Invest in Your Life… Spend Less, Be Happier.

April 22, 2009

twentySomething #1: “Hey looks like there’s still a lot of good snow, but it probably won’t last much longer so we’re thinking of going on one last snowboarding trip for a weekend before the season ends.  You in?  The snow will be great, and so will the weather.”
twentySomething #2: “That sounds great! Count me in!”

twentySomething #2 is a typical present-day young professional, nervous about his financial security due to the current economic situation.  He has seen his portfolio plummet in the past year and is unsure about the stability of his current job.  All of his fears and insecurities come to a head one week before the snowboarding trip and although snowboarding is one of his favorite hobbies, he decides, regretfully, that he absolutely must back out of this trip and save the money he would have spent.  Snowboarding weekend rolls around, and he finds himself sitting at home thinking about how much he wishes he was having fun in the snow with his friends.

Then, a casual friend of his calls him up and asks him to go bar hopping that night.  “I haven’t seen him in a month since the last time we had some drinks… I should go,” twentySomething #2 thinks to himself.  Feeling down that he isn’t out snowboarding, he agrees to go out and ends up spending $100 on drinks and greasy late night food, resulting in a wasted weekend recovering from the throbbing hangover the morning after…. realizing he probably should have just gone snowboarding.   Though he had fun during his night out, he probably wouldn’t have spent that much more money snowboarding  (if at all), and he would have ended with a much happier weekend doing something he loves much more with close friends.

Does this situation sound familiar to you? From my observations, this type of situation is not uncommon.

These days, with all the attention drawn towards the recession, and saving money, resisting splurges… people are scrambling to eliminate expenses left and right. During this process, it is easy to put aside what makes you happy for the sake of saving a little money before thinking these decisions through.  That means, it is also just as easy to end up spending some money for some instant (and probably short lived) gratification.  I’ve realized that it is beneficial to take a little time and come up with some guidelines/a plan for “investing” in myself and my happiness.    Therefore, in a tight money situation, I’d be able to think rationally about where to spend my money to maximize lasting gratification.  This is a good time to ask yourself, Are you skimping too much?

In the aforementioned article, Personal Finance columnist Liz Pulliam Weston writes about finding a balance so that you don’t find yourself spending money on things you’ll regret later but at the same time you don’t look back regretfully on missed opportunities. I’ll leave it up to you to read the article (it seems to generally be geared towards a slightly older crowd), but I did want to highlight the a few of the questions she suggests thinking about:

  • What would you do in a day, from the time you get up until the time you go to sleep? Account for every hour.
  • Whom would you spend time with?
  • What interests or passions would you explore?

After figuring out some answers to such questions, it’ll be easier to make commitments that maximize happiness and reduce guilt.  This is what I have realized.  At this age, we enjoy things like going out for drinks, for coffee, for meals.  A friend calls us up on a Friday night to go downtown, and we’ll end up going out and spending $50 before we really have a chance to realize how doing this weekend after weekend really adds up.  And really, how much happier are we after a month and -$200 later?    However, these small occasions are needed to maintain a healthy and happy twentySomething lifestyle.   We’ve all got to get out and let loose every once in awhile.  So I’ve learned to make to make these decisions more consciously.

I give myself a “budget” for these type of outings and keep a mental tab of how often I’ve been out recently and how much I’ve been spending. If a friend asks me out for drinks, and I haven’t been out in awhile/I haven’t spent much money out, then I’ll go out and enjoy myself.  Otherwise, I’ll politely decline… and feel okay about it because I had just gone out and enjoyed myself not too long ago.  It probably isn’t a decision I’ll look back on and regret.  As someone who naturally hates the thought of missing out on anything, I got to a point where I was stretching myself much too thin until I learned that nobody expects me to say yes all the time and that’s okay.  Additionally, when the chance to go on a well deserved luxurious vacation with close friends come up shortly after,  I’ll be able to commit wholeheartedly because it is within the guidelines I’ve set for myself.  I’ll know that it is an experience I truly want to take part in, with those that matter to me most.  And, I’ll have that much more money saved up towards it.

On a smaller scale, I’ve also learned to be conscious of smaller expenses that sneak up on you and add up such as going to the vending machine at work (guilty at least two/three times a month), getting Starbucks (3 coffees a week = $12 a week, or $48 a month or $576 a year!)… you get the idea.  These are things you don’t think twice about because it’s just a couple dollars at a time, but they sure do add up.  The main idea is to make money decisions more consciously so that you don’t make a mistake and find yourself eliminating random costs last minute because you’re freaking out.

Much like the way I maintain my financial portfolio, I also maintain a life portfolio. I figure out what’s important to me, what I want to do, what makes me happiest.  I try to diversify my time, money, effort into work, fun, personal enrichment, etc. similarly to the way I try to diversify my money in stocks, funds, and bonds.  I don’t hastily jump into one stock without thinking it through… and I accept small losses here and there when things don’t go the way I envision.  I make mistakes from time to time.  But I have faith that sticking with this strategy, I still come out stronger and happier than ever while wasting less time stressing out about things I don’t need to be.  I encourage you to take a little time to similarly evaluate your life and happiness too, especially if you find yourself in a bit of a bind when it comes to time and money. :)

– debs.

p.s.  If you have a lot of debt, or have little to no savings, I’m not in any way suggesting that you risk going broke.  In this case, you’ll probably want to make paying off debt and saving a high priority in your goals/guidelines and refer to “Savings, Investments, Retirement… Where Do I Start?”

Edit: Here is another related article I stumbled across right after I wrote this entire post: “Oversaving, a Burden for Our Times


Baby steps

April 15, 2009

I’ve found that the newly employed are often on the fringe, stuck between devoting themselves to their newfound careers or deciding to go back to school. This period, which I will arbitrarily define as RTSS (Roaring TwentySomething Syndrome) is the byproduct of 1) the reality that you may be doing this for the next 30 years and 2) the hope that you can do something more challenging/inspiring/lucrative. For people with symptoms of RTSS, continued education is often seen as the cure, often in the form of graduate school.

For those who have worked for a few years already, the task seems daunting. Open a book, without pictures of electronics/fashion/cars? And study it? The idea of going back to school is intimidating. Especially since the monotony of easy tasks (see: bitch work) often given to new hires has killed off many brain cells, rendering the brain less effective. Plus the alcohol hasn’t helped either. But there’s a solution for this: go back to school. Like, now.

I don’t mean that you should run to your nearest bookstore and buy a stack of GRE/GMAT/LSAT books. That would be terribly boring. Instead, excite the brain by studying what you want to do, preferably in a field as far away from your current occupation as possible. The best place to do this is at a community college. In addition to the benefits of studying what you enjoy, you can also meet new people, which I’ve found is a challenge as I get older. For instance, a coworker of mine is studying accounting, while a good friend of mine is studying Korean and Vietnamese. Another took a photography class. The cost? At De Anza Community College in San Jose, a measly $13 a unit, and classes are typically 3 units! So in addition to doing what you like, meeting new people, and challenging your brain, you also save money by not doing something more expensive somewhere else (i.e. drinking, eating out, shopping, etc).

But the act of going back to a classroom and listening to a lecture is the most beneficial. Perhaps I don’t know that many gung-ho people, but taking baby steps seems to be the best approach to most things. And this is one way to train and determine if you are ready for the next step.

-Vince