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Monday, October 27, 2008

Let It Go and Leave It

I was talking to a friend of mine. He was frustrated because he wasted his weekend sleeping. He slept all day Saturday and all day Sunday. But as I continued to talk to him, it became clear: he didn't sleep the weekend away because he was lazy; he slept the weekend away because he was dog tired!

He was recently promoted and is routinely staying at work until ten or eleven at night trying to get every little thing done and he is exhausted. I tried to give him a couple of tips that could help regain control of his life and restore some much needed balance.

Since he has an hour's drive home, I suggested that he use that time to decompress. Play a favorite CD, listen to a book on tape or just drive in silence. As the physical distance between my friend and the job increases, so should his stress level decrease.

He told me that the main reason he stays so late is so that he can completely finish everything on his plate. I correctly sensed that he's afraid of having things fall into the cracks if he leaves them until later. What I suggested, is that he do a brain dump at the end of the day, and write out everything that needs to be done the next day before he leaves work.

My last suggestion was to do something relaxing each evening. It could be a hot bath and shower, watching a favorite TV show, surfing the net, reading a book or just talking to a spouse or a friend. When leaving work, it helps if you have something to look forward to.

What other tips can you think of to help my friend reduce his work stress? I'll pass them on!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obama, McCain, The Big Picture and The Little Guy

I live in beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina. One of the great things about my new home is that they make it very easy to do my civic duty. I voted early yesterday. And it was a beautiful thing.

This election season has been all about the big races – presidential (of course) and the races for the House and Senate. However, I think a lot of new voters will be surprised to find, when they step into that polling booth, that there are a number of other races going on — races that they probably haven’t heard a thing about.

The truth of the matter is that it’s those lesser-known races that will have the biggest impact on the average voter. Want better schools? You will get better and more immediate results by working with the school board than with the president. Your mayor, city council members and police are the ones who will defend your neighborhood. Commander-in-chief has the whole nation to worry about. If you are concerned about justice, pay attention to the judges you elect. The fact is, the closer you are to the government, the more direct impact it has on your life. These are the people who can affect change. Yet these little local races are the ones we pay the least attention to.

Kind of sounds like life doesn’t it? We pay attention to the big and the flashy while overlooking the smaller things to us that make the biggest impact. You want to impress your boss’s boss when he visits from the corporate office but have no qualms with treating your co-workers like crap … even though they have a more direct impact on your everyday work life.

It plays out in every area. We go all out to celebrate an anniversary, but can’t be bothered to spend a regular evening with our spouse or even really listening to them when they talk about their day. We go all out with toys for the kids at Christmas but then we don’t make time to play with them during the year.

Years later, when you look back over your life, you might remember those anniversaries and Christmases but its those little moments, the encouraging hug at the end of a bad day or that game of hoops you played with your kid that will be remembered and truly cherished.

In elections and in life, little things mean a lot.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lose The Excuses: "I Don't Have the Money"

Money woes, money woes.
We watch money come,
Then we watch it go!

Outside of time, the biggest set of excuses that most people have concern money. Money can’t buy happiness or love (as the Beatles once sang); but let’s be honest, it can make some things a lot easier and managing it correctly can alleviate a lot of stress.

Having more money would make goals like buying a home, starting a business or returning to school possible. More money means more opportunities. Having more also can mean breathing a little easier. Your heart won’t race when the phone rings. You won’t wake up in the middle of the night wondering how you are going to pay on your credit cards and your car by the end of the week.

Money woes, especially in today's economy, are real and are definitely challenging but they are not insurmountable. To quote Dr. Phil, you have to start by ‘getting real.’ I know, believe me I know, how easy it is to live in denial. If you don’t know the depth of your debt somehow it seems easier to manage. But nothing could be further from the truth.

If money is what’s stopping you from reaching your goals, you have to get real and you have to get creative. For goals like home ownership or college, money is a reality. Find out where you are financially right now by boldly confronting your bills and finding what you owe. Then you can make a plan, if you can’t do it on your own, enlist the help of a financial planner whose job is helping you reach your financial goals.

You will have to start small but those small changes will yield big results IF you stick with it. Getting creative is just that. Think of non-traditional ways you can begin to reach your goals.

Can you take classes at the community college? Are there any one-day seminars that fit your budget? Can you go over to the college and find out what books they are using in the classes you are interested in and buy a used copy? Is there someone who is working in your field who you can work with as a mentor?

For a home, investigate grants and loans and first-time buyer programs, talk to several realtors and mortgage loan officers to find out about buying a home with as little as possible down.

As a business start-up, find ways that you can start small. Can you find college kids or recent grads to help you? What business grants are out there? Have you made an appointment to talk to someone at SCORE? They are a group of retired executives you can go to for free to discuss your business.

For other goals like getting in shape, losing weight, learning how to cook, taking up a hobby, money, or the lack thereof, is an excuse. Start where you are. Use the Internet, use the library, use your friends as resources to help get you started.

What creative ways have you found to get around the obstacle of not having enough cash?

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Road I've Traveled

In my newsletter this month, I said that I didn't have many regrets and I don't. But, I did have one pretty big one ... and then something amazing happened. It went away. Yes. It did. Just like that!

I always wondered what would have happened if I would have made the decision to just stay in Cleveland. I could have possibly married my college sweetheart and had a couple of kids. When I would see women who had that kind of domestic setting, I would feel tugs of envy and tinges of regret. "Maybe, I should have..." I would say to myself.

Last Christmas I went home for a visit. While hanging out with a good friend, we made a stop by her sister's house. Her sister had it all - the hubby and the nice home and the beautiful kids. She was exactly the kind of woman that sparked thoses tugs and tinges within me.

I asked her how she'd been because we hadn't seen each other in quite a while (years). And she talked about the husband and the kids and the job and she seemed truly happy. And, I was truly happy for her.

As we prepared to leave, I had an epiphany. In that moment, I realized, that if her life had been my life, I would have spent years in quiet desperation. I would not have been happy. I probably would have driven myself crazy!

I realized that the road frequently traveled wasn't the road for me. I'd been on the right path - my path - all along. I thought about all the amazing things I'd seen and done and the insane variety of people I've met that never would have been possible living day-to-day in a suburb of Cleveland. Yes, I still want the hubby and the kid (not plural!) but I need to have that in my own way in my own time.

At that moment, I literally felt the weight being lifted from my shoulders and I knew that I would never again feel those same tugs and tinges. I can appreciate someone else's path without wishing it were my own.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What I Know, Part 2

7. Not All Friendships Are Forever: Some friends are in your life for a reason or a season and when that reason is no longer valid or that season is over, so is the friendship. I've learned to appreciate my former friends for what they brought into my life and then move on - without bitterness or hard feelings - but with love and fond memories.

8. You Can't Get Rich Quick or Have Success Overnight: If you talk to those who have gotten rich quick you'll see that it took a lot of time and that overnight happened over many nights and usually many years!

9. Knowing What You Want Is Half The Battle: There is a song that says, "You can't get what you want, til you know what you want." If you don't have a goal, you can't reach it. The other half of the battle, once you know what you want, is working consistently towards getting it ... when you feel like it and when you don't.

10. You Are Your Own Business: Even if you don't have an entrepreneurial bone in your body, you are in business for yourself. You provide a service to the company you are working for and they compensate you for it. The company will not hesitate to let you go if it's in the 'best interest of the business', so you should be prepared to act in the 'best interest of your business - you.' Be loyal to yourself and your future, not your company.

11. Get Advice From the Experts: I love my father dearly and if I need personal advice, I will not hesitate to call him. However, if I need real estate advice, I go to a good realtor. If I need tax advice, I go to a good tax person (or several). And I don't go to anyone without doing my homework first. Before I go to the tax man, I'm going to do my own research and learn as much as I can about taxes and my situation. I will confer with the experts but I'm not going to leave my business in anyone's hands without being informed.

12. You Can't Change the Past or Predict the Future but You Can Control the Present: What has happened has happened. We've all made mistakes, we've zigged when we should have zagged or leapt without looking. A lot of times, we think that life would have been so much better, if we had only made the other choice. As far as the future, some people are so paralyzed by the thought of making the wrong decision that they don't make any decision at all, often staying in miserable or mundane circumstances because of it. What you can do right now, is control what is going on right now. You can't change the past but you don't have to continue to relive it. You can't predict the future but what you do right now will impact that future. Right now is all that there is and all that matters.

So there is the dirty dozen. What I've learned in half a life (that is if I live to be 80!). What sage advice would you add to this list?

Monday, October 6, 2008

What I Know, Part 1

As the two regular readers of this blog already know, I've recently celebrated another birthday. Over the years, I've made some good choices and some not-so-great ones. Yet, the mistakes and the choices I have made have brought me to where I am now and that's not a bad place. Who's to say if I would have done things differently, they would have turned out better. Who knows?

Which brings me to the point of today's blog, I asked myself, what have these past two decades taught me? What wisdom have I gained with age? Here are a half dozen things that I've learned.

1. You Aren't Defined by Your Words But Your Actions: You can say anything. It's what you do that counts. Don't call me your friend and then suddenly disappear in my time of need. Don't talk about the virtues of family when you barely speak to yours. I've learned to be polite when people 'talk'. I nod and smile and let all those marvelous words in through one ear and right out the other. All the while, I'm watching people's actions because that's the true test of integrity and that is where real character lies.

2. Speak Up: When I was younger, I let a lot of people get away with a lot of things because I wanted to be nice or because I was scared of what people would say or because I didn't want to rock the boat. Well, my niceness was taken for weakness man times. So I learned to speak up. I don't raise my voice. I don't need to curse. I don't get all neck-twisty but if you cross me, you will know it. If you mistake my kindness for weakness once, you won't make that mistake twice.

3. It's Okay If You Don't Like Me: I was a pretty popular kid. As I grew older, I expected everybody to like me. If someone didn't like me, it really did hurt my feelings. I realize now how ridiculous that was. Not everyone will like me and I may never know why. It might not doesn’t have anything to do with me. Regardless of the reason, it's okay. I don't need to impress you. You don't have to like me. And guess what, I don't have to like you either!

4. Be The Person You Want to Attract: This goes for friends and co-workers as much as it does for a romantic partner. If you want loyal friends, be a loyal friend. If you want honesty in your relationships, you need to be honest. If you want laughter and joy, you can't be sulking around depressed. Like attracts like.

5. Be Real with Yourself: I can't afford the luxury of self-delusion. When I first started gaining weight, I actually thought that the dryer was shrinking my clothes! I also thought that my money problems would magically disappear if I just 'made more money.' Well, after more than doubling my just out of college income and gaining over 50 pounds, I had to get real. I was fat and managing money, not making it, was my problem. That was real. Once I was able to accept the truth, I could do something about it... it had nothing to do with the dryer or a FICO score, it was me.

6. Be Real about Others: If he couldn't be faithful to his other women, he won't be faithful to you (even if he swears on a stack of bibles that he will). If your boss has gone back on his word with others, eventually he'll go back on his word with you. If you've caught someone in a lie before, don't be surprised when they lie again.

What wisdom have you gained with age? Do tell!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Uncle Johnny Syndrome

I love my Uncle Johnny, I do. The last time I saw him he said, “If somebody would just let me, I could solve all the world’s problems.” And, he really thinks he can. The credit crisis, crime, educational issues, he can do it all! During a family dinner, we discussed African-American women and the pool of eligible men. He said, “If Black women can’t find men to marry, then they need to go to the prisons and find a man with potential.” My dad almost choked on his chicken in response to that one. Uncle Johnny is also an expert on home buying, taxes, the upcoming election and suitable hair styles for women.

Incredibly, he is not usually the most reliable when it comes to advice on anything. Through trial and a lot of error, I’ve learned that if I need advice, I need to get it from an expert and not rely on the Uncle Johnny’s of the world (and there are a lot of them). So now, if I need advice on buying a home, I talk to a realtor. When I need legal advice, I find a lawyer. I go to a tax man for tax advice.

If we are truly committed to leading a life of happiness and satisfaction, we need to surround ourselves not just with people who can support us emotionally, although that is essential, but with people who have the know-how and the expertise that can help us make the right decisions.

And Uncle Johnny, I go to him when I need a good laugh or a lively conversation. He’s good for that.

What's the best, or worse, advice you've received from an Uncle Johnny?