525,600 minutes

If you’ve ever heard the music from RENT you’ll know there’s 525,600 minutes in a year. Half a million minutes made up these last 12 months of 2010.

There’s something about the end of December that always gets me thinking about what’s changed and I really can’t blame it on the media since I unplugged my television and rarely listen to the radio anymore.

Today I had a marathon call with one of my clients as we prepare to launch our first program in 2011 (you can read about it here and you should because it’s awesome). Because Alexis (my client) is completely awesome and cares about each team member and their well being we discussed if my list (which is always long after a team call) was too much. I determined that it was not and how I actually appreciated this in contrast to my last job. Our conversation went a little something like this:

Alexis: What is different from last year?

Kelly: Last December my boss told me I was “too efficient” and they were cutting my hours and pay by 20%

Alexis: You HAVE to blog about this.

So here I am, sharing my story. The company really did me a favor, pushing me out of my comfort zone to make some drastic changes in 2010.

How I responded

At first I was mad. How was it that I did all the right actions and ended up with fewer hours than my lazy counterpart? Then I got reasonable.

Nothing good was going to come from my bitterness and I’d only hate work more, if it were possible. So I decided to act, continuing to add value to the company despite actively searching for a new position. Why? Because my work history would show that I was ready for more challenges even if my current company wouldn’t give them to me.

Keep in mind unemployment in CA is in the double digits, I was accustomed to living 5 minutes from work and I become a crabby troll if I have to commute in Sacramento traffic 5 days a week.

I took Earn 1K with Ramit Sethi. Check it out. They’re opening the course again in February and if you need to make some extra cash this is the way to go.  In the summer I began working with Ramit’s course Beyond 1K. One of the members I met was working with Alexis. I sent in my resume and quit my old desk job in August.

What my old employer should have done instead

Listen to your employees. I told my managers more than once that I was interested in learning more, improving systems and connecting to our region to grow the company. Instead I was asked to take aluminum cans in for recycling.

Now, I have nothing against recycling but I didn’t believe runs to the recycling center were going to improve my resume and would probably just make me bitter about paying on my student loans for a college degree I was using to (essentially) take out trash. No exaggeration, the company eventually found two clients with mental disabilities to do the task.

If you have an employee who is efficient, dedicated and exceeding expectations give them more work and pay them accordingly. During my 12 month tenure at this company they canceled the company 401k match, eliminated holiday and birthday celebrations, raised insurance costs (company doesn’t pay deductibles) and froze all wages not allowing for merit or cost of living raises.

In addition to a low hourly rate and no substantial job benefits, the company gave me no more work, none of the challenging projects I’d asked for and cut my hours and pay by 20%.

Despite a last minute attempt to “lure me back” by offering me a full schedule and double the workload for the same pay, I declined and put in my notice. If they had listened, responded to my reasonable request and found challenging, engaging work so I could deliver more value (and then paid me for bringing more value) I would probably still be with the company.

What’s next?

Personally, I’m in a good place. I enjoy working with my clients and teams, I can clearly see the value I bring and the clients do as well and I am no longer scrambling to pay my bills.

Last year in December I worked at ResCare, Hollywood Video, the Princeton Review and wrote for 2 newspapers.

This year I am a contracted freelance worker with 3 solid clients.

Last year I was nervous, anxious, bitter and cranky about my job prospects.

This year my outlook is positive, I have a good life/work balance and worry does not consume me.

Last year I took calculated financial risks to improve my life and this year I hope to grow and evolve in ways I cannot imagine now but hope to reflect on in December 2011.

Last Thoughts

Are you familiar with the scarcity mindset? It’s the belief that there will never be enough [fill in the blank]. For my former company it was money. When I did see my former manager this fall she proudly told me how they’re saving $175 a month by having the office staff do the cleaning! She bought them a vacuum and rags and now the HR manager and admins and accounting professionals are cleaning the office (instead of serving clients and growing the business) to save a few bucks.

If there was an underlying mindset I needed to conquer in order to sign up for Earn 1K and get on track to a better financial future, it was overcoming my scarcity mindset. How could I pay a few thousand dollars for something I wasn’t sure would work? It turns out that was the wrong question. I needed to ask myself: How can I wisely invest in my future and get the resources I need to make a change?

Of all the programs I’ve seen out there the two I wholeheartedly recommend are Earn 1K (if you’re building a business) and the Money Map (monetize the business to serve your life and work) because I have completed the course, talked with the creators and worked with other students. They are not just full of advice that would take me untold years to figure out on my own but they are build to serve you. If you have questions you can leave me a comment, I am always willing to share more!

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Some Christmas Spirit

I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of holidays. The reasons are vast but the main reason is that no one seems to relax and enjoy the peace and calm of a day set aside to celebrate veterans or a new year or a nation’s founding. Instead we’re encouraged to buy more crap, host bigger and better parties and produce gifts and sugar treats galore.

Hardly relaxing.

This December I’ve enjoyed decorating but not taken things too seriously. Most of my decorations come from the thrift store or reuse what I already own. Some of my favorite things are homemade.

Here’s one gift I’m testing out for my Grandma who has a walnut tree in her backyard, it’s called “Davy Crackit”:

I bought fresh flowers since I have come to accept that I kill living plants faster than acceptable in modern society. Cut flowers, however, are supposed to die and relieve me of guilt.

It’s nice to put on the Christmas music, light the candles and relax with a book. And coffee. Peppermint creamer makes an appearance often. Here’s Jackson with one of the pillows I made this month:


While it’s raining today I went for a drive yesterday, got lost and then found my way home. Best thing I saw (no picture unfortunately) was a sign advertising:

Hamburgers

Mexican Food

Live Bait

I did stop for a few pictures, you can tell it was a gray and dreary day.

Aside from the drive, I’ve been watching some favorite movies, writing Christmas cards and chatting with friends and family.

Happy Holidays!

Rules for Shopping

I don’t often go out shopping on big shopping days, mostly because people annoy me. But this year I ended up out and about more than usual.

So, to save my sanity, I’ve compiled a list of common courtesies that will make the world a better place. Remember these if you’re shopping tomorrow for last minute gifts or the after Christmas sales.

1. Learn to drive. Really. Signs, signals and lights are important. Do not park in front of the dumpster because it’s just too much to walk thirty feet to get your dinner order. Don’t pretend you’ll never be able to turnaround when you end up in the wrong lane and then cross three lanes and by all means don’t shrug and wave as if to say “oops! *giggle*”

2. Remember that I, and presumably you, are here to shop. Not make friends. Its not that I’m unfriendly, I have been known to make delightful small talk. But today I am here to shop for clothes or trinkets or books, not a new BFF.

3. In a related note: step back! No one needs to be thisclose when I’m swiping my credit card or contemplating lemon or lime pudding. Personal distance is important as I am paranoid. The closer you get, the closer I get to using my purse as a weapon.

4. If you find a friend while shopping, great! Just don’t feel the need to share this glorious reunion and rub baby bumps or recap the last dozen years while blocking a door, aisle or display. This isn’t the Oprah show. We don’t care. Move away from the peanut brittle please thanks.

5. Piles of sweaters, novelty whistles and candy are no substitute for a babysitter. Take junior’s measurements with you and leave the little tyke in a happier place. And dear god, please understand that even if you have learned, through years of parenting, how to ignore shrieking, crying, whining and noise making children, have some consideration for the rest of us!

6. When you’re in a queue you have one job: get to the front of the queue. Once you’re there you need to watch for the next open register as if your life depends on it. Because it might. Don’t make the person behind you holding their finds repeat, point or draw you a map. I am always tempted by bypass those who would rather chat than check out.

A bonus for the stores: if you feel the need to line the queue with drinks and snacks then you need more checkers. Seriously. It’s somewhat understandable at a grocery store because who DOESN’T get home and realize they forgot the snickers bar? But retail stores? Get more checkers.

7. When you’ve made it through the parking lot, the maze in the store and the queue keep it snappy. As a former retailer worker I can promise you, The checkers are not your friend. If they were you’d be getting an employee discount and going to their house for drinks. Checkers are nice because a) the boss is nearby, b) they want you to sign up for the credit card offer or buy a gift card/promo of the week, or c) they’re resigned to this fate and might as well be happy. Stop talking as if you’re long lost buddies about the amazing color of those socks or the great deal on those candy boxes. Pay. Leave.

8. This applies beyond the holiday season but needs to be said. Do not, under any circumstances answer your phone or make a call in the bathroom. Ever. If it’s life and death then wash your hands and step outside. I don’t care if your loved ones are accustomed to hearing from you while you, uh, take care of business. No one else wants to hear your conversation in the bathroom.

In fact, as a present I designed a customer service announcement and encourage all people who understand the meaning of privacy to post these inside public toilet stalls the world over:

Sorry, is that in poor taste? SO IS TALKING TO SOMEONE WITH YOU PANTS DOWN IN A PUBLIC PLACE.

9. Finally, at least pretend to be a pleasant person in public. No one writes sonnets about long lines, merchandise shortages or slow workers.  So while all of things (and more) may annoy you to bits don’t take it out on the world.

5 Years Time

In the spirit of the holidays I had my friend Eli over last night for cookies, studying and a chance to catch up. Funny how 5 hours flies by when you’re in good company.

Aside from the inevitable cookie mocking (my snowflakes always look like starfish and snowman heads are apt to fall off), we spent a good bit of time talking about what’s next. Eli graduates college tomorrow (!) and it got me thinking about this month, five years ago, when I left my apartment in Virginia and drove through sleet and rain and snow back to California.

5 years ago. Wow. So much has happened.

Moving to Yolo

Five months after I got home to California I moved again, this time to my current city where I had agreed to take care of my grandparents in exchange for living expenses. I also worked a full time (and sometimes part time) job, volunteered and managed the house.

See, my Grandma was dying of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2006, when I moved in, there was a lot of things she could no longer do. Laundry. Cooking. Driving. And while my Grandpa was in okay health and still mowing the lawn twice a week, he would quickly begin to lose his balance and fall. Add to that the fact he had not spoken much in the 20 years since he had a stroke and I was up to my eyeballs in stress.

Normal was the watchword. We wanted their lives to be as normal as possible, sleeping in the same house, eating the same foods, seeing the same friends.

Somewhere in that time Kelly got lost.

Friends & Driving

If you’ve ever moved to a place where you knew no friends, how did that go? Did you stay in touch with the old ones and cultivate new? I found that 99% of the people I thought were my friends never made an effort to speak with me again. Even in the age of facebook. These are people I’d known for a decade and most of them could not be bothered (in five years time) to email, call, instant message, smoke signal or social media message me under any circumstance.

Wow. Moving out of town put my friendships in a new light. As a result I spent even more time with my family, my grandparents, at work.

In those days, and even to this day, my Grandpa could navigate the back roads in the rural country surrounding this town without a map. While he won’t speak, he’ll point and navigate the driver whether you’re just going for a drive or to find a walnut grove. In those days we’d go for a drive and I, raised in the Bay Area, would zip and speed and rush along, because driving was to get you from point A to point B in the least time possible.

Grandma would admonish me to “slow down” as she looked out the window at a jack rabbit in a field or the leaves that were slowly changing hue. One time she commented sadly about a farmer leaving all his tools out to rust. They were, of course, huge pieces of farm equipment in a staging yard but it gave me and Grandpa a laugh.

In 2007 Grandma went into the hospital and her disease took a new turn. Together with her doctor we determined she would now need full time care that I could not provide. That weekend with the help of my mom and her best friend, we moved Grandma into Assisted Living. Grandpa would be joining her a few days later so that first night I slept in the home with her. Held her hand as she fell asleep, comforted her when she woke up.

Breaking Family Ties

Time went on and we began necessary repairs on the house that Grandma had put off for years. During this time I paid rent/living expenses and sorted 30 years worth of household items and memories for the family. A little over a year later my landlord (a family member) and I had a major disagreement. He thought (at that point) that I should continue to go to the doctor visits taking sick leave from work, host visiting family with often no notice and be “on call” for my grandparents AND pay three times the rent I was paying to stay in their home.

I had no way to pay that amount so my options were to fight him or move out. I can admit now, I was hurt. Upset. Felt like I had poured two years of my life out for my family and then been tossed to the side. (even now it hurts to relive what happened)

So in 2008 I bought the half-plex where I currently live (a joint investment with my parents) and struck out to make this “home.” It was not an easy process, one filled with floods and paint escapades and a pit of mud. But this December with the sparkly Christmas tree lights and homemade decorative pillows and cookies that look like sea creatures, it does feel like home.

Which brings me full circle to chatting with Eli last night.

Where do I go from here?

One of the programs I support for my client is called the Money Map and it’s core idea is to determine the lifestyle you want, the business you have and the money you need to earn to make your lifestyle possible.

The problem, I explained to Eli, was that my future is so fuzzy. I can see myself living very nomadically, traveling and writing and working in a very leveraged way AND I can envision my life as described in my perfect day, a house outside of town, involved in a community and somewhat more stable.

Tonight I was driving home from dinner and decided to take a detour. Not unusual for me. I love driving at night and seeing where the road takes me. Tonight I only really wanted to drive further away from my city. I wanted to pull into a long driveway lined with trees and surrounded by the pitch blackness of a December night with no cloud cover and few lights.

Up to this point where I’ve lived has been reactionary. I went to the college I wanted to attend but got shuffled around in the dorms a half dozen times. I took an apartment off campus for my last semester because the price was cheap and the location wasn’t terrible. I moved in with my Grandparents because I felt I needed to be there. I bought into this half-plex because the location was decent, the price was right and I don’t like apartments.

I’ve never intentionally sat with myself, my goals, my desires and chosen, from that space, where I want to live. It’s one of the fundamental things of life to me, what you’re spending your time on and where you are in the world. I’ve gotten better at setting my path in relation to work and intentionally crafting my career – but not my locale.

A lot has changed for me, and in me, in the five years since I left college. Being at a university, and specifically on the debate team, taught me to stand up and challenge the status quo while understanding that no one is going to look out for my interests like me. Sure, people care but they do not have the invested interest that I do and I have to stand up for myself.

Leaving college has been an exercise in experiencing that truth. That my family can care until they don’t think the time I give is important. A company that doesn’t value my input or results. Friends who are not. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m committed to making conscious choices toward living the life I want instead of simply reacting to the circumstances around me.

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[Note: for some reason WordPress hated me and wouldn’t let me link/add pictures so I posted this in December without pics knowing if I didn’t post then I never would.]

that time of year

It’s been a busy week and I’ll catch up on the food challenge this weekend.

In the meantime I’ve been relaxing at night by decorating for Christmas, a holiday with arguably the best decorations.

The dogs are usually in the way, wondering what is going on. As long as they don’t uh, water the tree I’m fine.

Anything that doesn’t fit easily on the tree goes up on the mantle including some hilarious fruit ornaments I found one Christmas when I waited until Christmas Eve to look for ornaments.

Next up I need to finish cleaning the kitchen and pull out holiday towels and then put out my pillows. Including the ones I made which are so bad they’re good.

Jackson, however, is not impressed by all the Christmasification.

Day 3 – New Dishes

I love fresh fruit and vegetables in the summer and try to incorporate them in every meal. Frozen and canned come second to fresh but sometimes a mix is necessary. Most days I do a salad like this one:

but I find it hard to go several hours without protein. I suppose I could add tuna, a hard boiled egg or chicken to the salad but it’s not the same. I’d rather do a cold salad, no dressing with hummus on the side.

Day 3 – New Recipe

My dinner tonight also included a load of fresh vegetables: peppers, onions, zucchini and brown rice. It was a new recipe that mixed sausage (I can’t remember what I bought but I needed to use it up) with a bunch of vegetables and spices. It’s always a little risky trying a new recipe but you may be pleasantly surprised.

This recipe, a vegetable and sausage skillet, was just the right balance of starch, vegetables and protein. I didn’t add the spices so I just substituted with pepper and garlic salt. Serve over brown rice or just mix it up like I did here.  If I run out of rice I could serve the rest of this dish with pasta or couscous.

Action Step: Identify a substitution in a favorite dish

For dessert tonight I had a cup of coffee with french vanilla creamer. But when the coffee got cold I was in the mood for ice cream. So mixed up vanilla ice cream and the last of my coffee. It’s back in the freezer now to firm up – hopefully it tastes good!

Day 2 – Breakfast is Served

If I had a nemesis, it would be breakfast.

It is just so difficult for me to fight my way out of bed in the morning (especially with an 80 pound dog who tries to sit on me) not to mention be coherent enough to provide myself with sustenance.

Day 2 – Start Small

Normally I don’t go out for breakfast, I just don’t eat it. The only benefit of working in an office I mourned was loss of my morning coffee. But I also hate making it every day at home. So every few days I make a pot of 10 cups of coffee and put half in the fridge. This morning I had a simple breakfast: oatmeal, orange, coffee.

idiot proof breakfast

This morning I mixed a packet of oatmeal with flavor added to a quarter cup of regular oats. Add hot water. Done.

The best thing about oatmeal is that it requires mindfulness. If you leave it for 20 minutes while answering emails it gets cold, hard and icky. When the premade packets run out I might make my own using this guide from the Simple Dollar.

I took the cold coffee from the fridge, added some milk (expires today – eek!) and then a little creamer to add flavor.

the best part of waking up...

I started rinsing and saving my coffee cups so I could take smoothies to work and not worry about cleaning the cup. Now I use these one more time to drink my morning coffee cold.

Action Step: Check out fridge items with short life spans NOW

After looking all the way in the back of my fridge, the doors and the easily ignored drawers I found out I’m having a salad for lunch!