what i’ve learned making a lot of money

I used to think that people, especially before their 40s, who made low-to-mid six figures were in the upper echelons of career nirvana. Yet every year throughout my career I’ve made more and more money. At first this was a little game for myself – how much more could I earn if I just asked for it and exhibited confidence. I’ve gotten fairly good at negotiating, but not so much at holding my value. Big problem.

The thing I’ve realized now that I’m, in my mind, making a lot of money (mind you, not like, wall street money, but still, a solid upper middle class income) is that, surprisingly, I’m not the type of person driven by money. With the high salary comes different kinds of expectations in terms of professional polish and management ability. To just look at myself in the mirror and say “you know what, maybe I’m not cut out for this, and that’s not a bad thing,” makes me feel a whole lot better.

No matter what field you’re in, or what you do, there are opportunities to become an expert at it and make a decent sum of money. But just letting life bounce you into a field that you aren’t naturally good at, and somehow have managed to con people into thinking you can do the job, isn’t an ideal way to live. It’s hyperventilatingly stressful, depressing, and ultimately not good for anyone involved. At some point you have to look at yourself in said mirror and say “listen, you aren’t a six-figure professional, and that’s ok.”

What’s more, I know I’d be incredibly inspired if I were to be able to actually work on the product side of the house vs the more business side. I’d still leverage all of my knowledge form the business side, but at the end of the day I want to build great products. I’ve been saying this for the past 10 years. I just keep finding myself in jobs that pay more and require more responsibilities at something that isn’t a natural fit for my abilities.

When I interview candidates who just LOVE this profession, it becomes very clear to me that I’m in the wrong role. And right now I’m open to a lower salary if it means being in a position where I’m a better fit. I just don’t know how to get there. The lower salary doesn’t bother me, especially if I move to somewhere with a lower cost of living, however to even make the transition it seems grad school is still the easiest way — and then it seems silly to pour a hundred-thousand dollars into a degree that will land me a job that pays a hundred-thousand dollars less than what I make today. But I guess if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.

If money doesn’t make me happy, and it clearly doesn’t beyond meeting basic needs, then I need to figure out what will — and chase after it as if my life depended on it. Because it does.

February Wrap Up & Networth Update

February, despite being a short month, was quite a productive one financially. The stock market was going up and up and up, which provided quite a nice bump in my networth.

For the new readers:
My Objective: $500k in networth by 1/1/17, $400k by 1/1/16. First kid by 1/1/18.

Well, despite being in a bit of a funk/depression this February, my bank account looks quite healthy. So healthy, in fact, that according to my bi-monthy networth report, I’m actually ahead of plan. This is extremely exciting to me as this is the first year I’m attempting to see a $100k increase in my annual networth. Being as I hope for a more flexible career when I have children, I have only a few more years to achieve my goal. Including my material assets (namely my car), my networth is now somewhere between $327k and $337k. My goal for 3/1/15 was $316k to be on track to $400k this year.

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Now, not every month is going to be so great in terms of stock growth, and likely my portfolio will see a correction soon. It’s just fun how the more money you save the more it can go up in a month when the market is also going up. Also, I’m fortunate to have a job and lifestyle that enables me to save, save, save. Well, I did go shopping last month and bought a few new items, but overall I feel good about the month in total. Makes up for a fairly flat January.

My focus is really on being exceptional in my work so I can maintain this level of growth without flatlining or seeing a decline this year. This year can really go any which way. I’m hopeful I’ll continue to have good news next month, and be well ahead of plan by mid year.

 

Where’s the Drug to Forget Who You Were to Become Who You Are

I don’t have many happy memories of childhood. The memories I do have seem to jump from one moment of being yelled at or hit by my father to being bullied in school. Fourth grade. Dad is pissed I am too scared to swallow a pill needed for my chronic infections. He slaps me across my face. Hard. I’m stunned because this is the first time in his hitting me where I am convinced I did not deserve it. Sixth grade. Other student in art class takes a stuffed animal I brought in to draw in a still life and completely destroys it when I’m not looking. Third grade. Kids call me the cootie girl and make fun of me. I spend my recess times along singing by myself waiting for this supposed “fun” time to fly by. First grade??? I didn’t clean my room. Dad comes home from work, screams at me to come into his room, bend over the bed. I know what I’m in for. His belt slides quickly out of his oversized pants, (the woosh of leather sliding through pant loops is unforgettable and so sharp in my mind), and I don’t know which is more horrifying, his uncontrollable, inconsolable rage, or the snap of the belt against my back and behind as I squirm and learn to, in some ways, appreciate the pain. It is the only thing in the world that feels right. It is what I deserve. Twelfth grade. Half-assed attempt at suicide. Cry for help.

Yet here I am… still here. I guess I should give myself credit for that. But I’m still that girl whose only understanding of self was someone who was not worth much of anything at all. My comfort zone was playing the role of scape goat. Want someone to blame for all of your problems? Blame me. It’s easier that way. Everyone needs a scape goat.

The problem is, no one really needs a scape goat. No want wants a martyr. People want people who are confident and effective. They want leaders who can get shit done. A good friend recently explained to me that one of my biggest flaws in leadership is that I don’t communicate decisions clearly. I’m so whishy washy. You want to know why I don’t communicate decisions clearly? Because I can’t make them. If a decision must be made by instinct than I don’t trust mine. I grew up being told time and again that whatever I thought wasn’t right. If it’s a decision made by data then sure this should be easier but there’s never enough data to support decisions that in large part must be based on intuition and enacted with full confidence.

So every single day, I’m faced with this huge problem — if I don’t trust my decisions, even on the most minute detail, how can I expect anyone else to? And the way leadership works, you don’t really get a lot of chances. You fuck up once and your cover is blown. You need to be clear, solid, directed, and consistent. That shouldn’t be so hard. But my challenge is I make my decisions based on understanding what other people want. That’s how I was raised. I take in a lot of information, pay close attention to how people react to something, and then come out with a solution which is a compromise of what everyone else wants. Only when I really feel it is what “other people want” can I confidently back it up.  My own opinions/ideas/thoughts have absolutely no worth. At least not until I can create a final project/result and it is a big reveal moment. When I can show versus tell – then, and only then, can I have confidence in my own ideas and outputs.

This all is rather disastrous professionally. I’ve clearly added value in the past when I’m able to just run with things, but I crumble when I need to lead. I can’t quite decide yet if I just don’t want to be a leader or if I want to be a leader but I really suck at it today. Every single tiny choice builds up great anxiety in my chest. I have physical pain in my chest daily due to being frozen over decisions. I fear I’m not intelligent enough to pick door number one or door number two. My communication skills are beyond pathetic and people run out of patience with me. I find myself fantasizing about moving to New Mexico and working as a waitress at a diner for the rest of my life because then I don’t have to make any choices – I just have to take orders.

But I also don’t like just taking orders. Even if an individual contributor-type job paid the same as a managerial position, I would feel stifled in that. I do have ideas. I do like to make processes better. I do see the bigger picture and understand very quickly how one thing can effect many others. I feel like there’s something there of value, though not everyone values it. And often this skill, if you’d call it that, is actually a determent to success. Instead of focusing on what moves the needle now I want to fix the bigger picture. I feel this unrelenting, heavy, exasperating pull to fix the architecture of the bigger picture. And I spend too much time stuck in this as a way to avoid dealing with the real issue – that I can’t actually make day-to-day decisions… whether that be what to wear or how to delegate a task. And, as a result, I drive everyone nuts. I wouldn’t want to work with me.

At the end of the day, I do need a job. And if I have to have a job – which I do – I want one where I know I’m adding value. As someone who was raised to “serve” versus to “lead,” I am only happy when I accomplish a task set out for me and am rewarded for not just meeting expectations but overachieving on this task. The clearer the goal and more my own doing can get me there, the more productive I am and the more success I achieve. When things aren’t so cut and dry, when there’s a thousand things to do in order to do a remotely good job and there’s only time in the day for four of them, I am crippled beyond belief. I still get work done, but I do it at night, when I can escape the confines of the office, where I can breathe and think and focus.

I want more than anything to be successful right now. It really isn’t about the money, though that’s a nice plus. I want to make a difference. I want to prove to myself and others that I can get shit done. That I can lead. That I can be a great leader. But clearly I don’t actually believe this to be possible. How could I? I’ve been beaten down so many times throughout my life, I’ve been told I’m into good enough and others are better than I am, I’ve been bullied and ridiculed (sometimes for good reason) and I am at the point where I must admit that will always be me… that is never going to change. Either I learn to deal with it – or embrace it – or I’m not sure what.

I know I have to stop being so hard on myself… I honestly feel like I might have a heart attack any day now… or at least some full-blown “take me to the mental hospital” panic attack — but there isn’t time to deal with it effectively. I mean, you can say there isn’t time to not deal with it, but nothing I’ve tried so far has worked. I’m tired of costly therapy that goes no where. At the end of the day, maybe I’m just not cut out for this… business world. I don’t know. There must be others out there in the world who were raised in a similar way I was — children of narcissists, low self esteem, bullied as children, bipolar II, highly anxious, and still making their way in the world somehow. Who are they and how do they cope? Is it possible to rise above all of this to make quick, confident decisions and actually lead effectively? Or is this hopeless? No psychologist would tell me it’s hopeless – they get paid to “fix” these problems – but I want to know, really, if this is hopeless – hopeless in that I’m never going to be the right fit for this, and hopeless in that I should get used to lower-paying jobs where I can maintain a stable living and “dot the i’s” all day in someone else’s vowel-only alphabet.

 

The Emotional Reprecussions of Narcissistic Parents

No one has perfect parents, and by 30-something you’re supposed to be well adjusted enough to forgive and forget any of their misgivings. I don’t know why I’m still holding out for the day my parents learn how to care about anyone other than themselves, yet that faith consistently proves futile.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago and told he had one to two years to live, I spent an evening collapsed on the floor with my friend holding my hand and praying to Jesus for me – which despite my being an atheist Jew was somewhat comforting. Despite growing up as the child of narcissists, and despite being quite self absorbed myself, somehow I’ve managed to learn how to care about others. I’m not very good at expressing this, and I certainly don’t know how to manage these feelings within the context of my family, but I’m learning.

Dad is still alive and kicking. While I had hoped that somehow the stars would align for him to both kick the terminal disease and for having a terminal illness to turn him into a man far less self-centered, I’ve realized this will never happen. The more amount of time I spend away from my parents, the more I can observe their great narcissism. To be fair, they financially took care of me throughout my childhood and then some, and I had a very comfortable childhood, at least on paper.

But that comfortable childhood was spent listening to hours upon hours of my father telling my mother she’s an idiot, throwing curse words at her, screaming and berating her, while my mother nagged about one thing or another, setting him off over and over again. My parents, in many ways, are perfect for each other. There is no satisfying their narcissistic supply, and it would surely drain anyone who actually cared to please the other when such pleasing was impossible.

I may be the type to over dramatize a lot of things in my life, but my parent’s crazy is not one of them. The definition of narcissistic personality disorder defines my father perfectly. My friend from childhood came to visit today and said she was not looking forward to coming over to the house because of my father, as he was never kind to her. She was a bit of a troublemaker as a child, but that was due to her parents both working and leaving her home alone from a young age, alongside her father’s alcoholism and abuse (which I did not know about at the time.) We both had crazy situations at home which is why we bonded, but my father always made it very clear that he looked down on her and her family. Today when she came over, he didn’t greet her in anyway. Yet, when my boyfriend comes over and doesn’t say hi to him, it’s the absolute worst possible disrespect. In short, my father is a great hypocrite, proven time and again, as he constantly cuts others down for faults that if he’d only look in a mirror for once he’d see so clearly in himself.

My father is the more violent type of crazy. He’s what I’d call a bad person. He has no care about how his actions make others feel. It is true that my mother has no care about how her actions make others feel, but typically his actions make others feel unsafe while hers are just annoying or embarrassing at worst. Wouldn’t it be nice for my father to, at least for the short time I’m home to visit, make an effort to make the household hospitable? No, in just 24 hours I’ve listened to him spurt more variations of “Fuck you” and “You’re an Idiot” at my mother than I’d care to count.

Thank goodness my mother has no heart inside of her to care. It’s just same old, same old with her. He seems to no longer physically shove her or grab her anymore, largely due to her calling the cops on him finally years back. Of course, after the police came to pick him up and take him to the station she had to go down and pick him up once he was released. That was the day I was terrified my father might actually kill my mother. She’s always been petite and weak, he’s always been obese and strong – which is a bad combination with a man who has no ability to control his temper and a woman who has no ability to realize she ought to not nag – or suggest any of her own ideas – in order to keep peace in the household.

My mother is no angel. She doesn’t have an ounce of mothering spirit in her body. A friend of hers came over tonight, a woman who was my Hebrew School teacher long ago, and as she asked how I’m doing I explained to her my concerns about having a child and maintaining a high-powered executive job, she briefly stroked my hair in a very motherly sort of way — this was completely off-putting to me, but the motherly-ness of it was kind of nice. She does call my mother out at her self-centeredness from time to time, not that my mother actually internalizes any of this feedback, but sometimes it’s nice to have a third party’s opinion organically in the mix. Makes me feel a bit less crazy.

Then there’s my sister, who, just graduated from college, is thank goodness a good person, yet broken as much as I am from growing up in an abusive household. While my seventeen jarring years at home pushed me towards my bipolar medley, she has also sought help for her depression. She has also been, just recently, leading quite the promiscuous life, because she has no sense of what a healthy relationship is, or how to respect herself or her body. And I feel horrible as her bigger sister not being able to provide any guidance to teach her that she deserves to be loved, and what that means. The fact is both of us have been formally diagnosed with depression, and I’m confident that the root cause of this was more nurture than nature. Who can come out of a household filled with so much selfishness and hatred and lead a healthy, normal, successful life – at least without being heavily medicated?

The Beatles said it best – all you need is love – and for the first 20 years of my life I had no such thing. During my 20s I struggled to learn how to love with a very patient, mild mannered, soothing boyfriend who came from his own broken background. His neglect and my physical and emotional abuse seemed to create two fractured creatures made somewhat whole together. There are days when I look around at other people in society who are perhaps more “normal” or socially able and I wonder what it would be like to be a person who can go out to events and socialize, but then I have to remind myself how completely awkward and abnormal I am, and why we’re the perfect fit for each other, till death do us part. And I remind myself that the only thing I really need to be happy is the love I never had as a child, the forgiving, relentless, eternal love that manages to find equal parts beauty and annoyance in even my many faults.

When I began my career, I had no one. I had never experienced love, I never valued myself enough to be in a healthy relationship with another person I fully respected or who respected me. Sure, I had a few relationships, but these were short lived – a girlfriend who, despite being kind and giving, was far too simpleminded to be a long-term match; a boyfriend who, a risk-loving midwestern guy with a horde of giant dogs and bad jokes and no emotional depth, was no fit for my sensitive side; and another boyfriend, a professional who, despite at the time earning a hundred thousand dollars more than my intern salary, and having been dating for nearly two years, made it clear that I would be paying for everything on every date, down to a $7 movie ticket, and then I’d be sleeping on the living room two-person couch for the night. I was so hungry for love and looking for it in all the wrong places because I had absolutely no respect for myself. I didn’t know how to be loved, or how to be worth being loved.

This is why I threw myself into my career. I wasn’t great at everything I did at work, but I had nothing else to focus on, even when my relationship with my current boyfriend begun, as I was unable to let him in. I found myself, typical as a child of abuse, trying to start fights at every turn, not feeling comfortable just existing in love. I needed the chaos, the ups and downs, the rush of the pain I was so used to. I pushed him away harder than one should be able to push a man and yet he stayed. He stuck he out. He knew I was hurting and lost and we both knew we were perfect for each other even though I tried so hard to break us apart.

Now I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve grown up a bit. I still have a lot of aging to do with wisdom to gain. But now all I need to find happiness is to be hugged tightly in his arms. I don’t need money or a fancy house or nice clothes or a new car or even to travel the world (though I enjoy traveling) because I could spend the rest of my life in a room with him and it would be ok. Suddenly, all of my motivation to focus on my career at the cost of avoiding my broken self shifted to my desire to be able to create a healthy, positive family with him. The years began to fly by and suddenly I was in my late 20s and then 30s. We didn’t get married or have kids, we just kept on watching the years go by, having fun together, but making little progress in terms of starting that family I began to see clearer and clearer.

I know having children is going to be a massive challenge due to my PCOS, and I don’t know how I’m going to manage to maintain my job and go through infertility treatments when the time comes. I’m going to have to make a lot of sacrifices and I will have to be strong enough to do this, not on my own, but as a team of two, us against the world. I’m quite frankly terrified because I don’t want to have kids and be a bad mother – I know I can be a horrible boss sometimes and while that’s not good either, at least with work you don’t always have the same employees throughout your career. One wrong move as a parent and it haunts you and your child for the rest of your life.

My teen self never dreamt of becoming a mother. Now, there’s nothing else in my life that seems more desirable or real. I’m afraid of what happens when I have children and introduce them to my parents, especially to my father’s rage, and how to explain to them that he thinks he’s right all the time even though he isn’t. Then I remember that chances are he won’t even be around when they’re born, or old enough to understand anything. Then I get sad over that, because I do want them to meet their grandfather, even with all of his volcanic anger constantly erupting. And I want them to meet my mother, as she far better plays the role of crazy grandmother than mother, taking pictures of her grandchildren and buying them presents to later be photographed with as well.

I can’t believe how fast time is flying — I’m nearly 32 and I’m not even married yet. I don’t feel behind mentally yet I know biologically the door to have a family is rapidly closing. Between that and the challenge and cost of going through the procedures needed to even children while also maintaining my high-pressure job is frightening. I’ll need to make some big choices about giving up massive savings potential in order to have a family. But at the end of the day, what is the point of saving if you never have a family to share that with (if that’s what you want to do, that is.)

 

Three Years Since My DUI – Life After a DUI

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In the summer of 2011, I made a terrible decision to get behind the wheel after attending a networking event and drinking away my anxiety with one too many glasses of wine. I could have killed someone or severely injured myself. I was fortunate to only end up in handcuffs and $10k poorer as a result of that horrible night.

As I learned at my required “first time offender” program, the events leading up to the DUI rarely describe a typical day. We had to do a writing exercise to detail out the events of the day, putting focus on any warning signs so we could recognize them in the future, in order to avoid a DUI habit. (Shockingly, despite the embarrassment and fees, there are still many repeat offenders.)

The day I got my first (and last) DUI, I was trapped in a deep depression, unable to get out of bed to drag myself to work. This does not at all excuse my actions, but looking back three years later I realize just how lucky I am to have escaped that evening with “only” a DUI. I pried myself out of bed to attend a networking event I was looking forward to having not eaten so much as a cracker during the day. My anxiety quickly kicked in and I downed a few glasses of wine (I think it was three oversized glasses, but the servers were refilling so I could have lost count.)

To my own credit, I knew I was not ready to drive immediately after the event. I went around the corner to a bar with a group of event attendees and stayed there for an hour or so until everyone went home. At that point, I walked back to my car, and the rest is a lesson in terrible decision history. A woman called 9-11 on me as I walked to my car and five cops were waiting to arrest me around the corner. I wasn’t ready to drive. Another hour and I would have barely made the cut off for the legal limit. I shouldn’t have even been thinking about driving. I blew a .10%.

It was the roughest night of my life. A night handcuffed to a chair in a freezing waiting area of the jail in nothing but a small, thin, summer dress because I was under psychiatric watch due to informing the cops about my very real intention to kill myself the second I had a chance. Thank god for my boyfriend at the time who, while being sad at the situation I had gotten myself into, picked me up at the jail the next morning and helped me through the very trying next year of my life. Thanks to him, I got through it.

Three Years Later

In hindsight, while being bipolar and massively depressed is not an excuse for driving drunk (ever / at all), I definitely now can recognize the signs when I’m emotionally not in a good place to think about drinking. And since when you have a DUI on your record you cannot have a drop of alcohol in your system when you are driving, I’ve learned how to handle the best practice of never driving if I plan to have anything to drink.

In my professional culture, this is not always the easiest, but people tend to understand. I typically take public transportation to work, which helps, because a work happy hour can still occur without a challenge in getting home. Even when I do drive in to work, if I go out with my colleagues after work for “drinks” I make sure to have just one and then spend a good three hours or so wandering around the mall to make sure any trace of alcohol is out of my system.

The hardest part of my DUI was the first few months when my license was taken away and when I had to participate in “volunteer work” and first offender classes, not to mention hire a lawyer (useless) and go to court to find out what my fine and punishment would be. I really don’t know what I would have done without my boyfriend helping me through the very dark time in my life. I feel bad for people who get DUIs and don’t have a support system in place, especially those who have others relying on them — like single parents or adult children responsible for taking care of their elderly parents. It’s amazing how many things you take for granted about your freedom and ability to transport yourself from one place to another until you’ve been arrested.

Fast forward three years and it seems everyone has a story about a DUI – whether they received one or knew a close friend that did. What drives me absolutely batty is how many people I know go out and drink a couple than get behind the wheel. For instance, I had a colleague who would drive extremely drunk and there was no stopping him (though my coworkers and I tried taking his keys away on numerous occasions.)

The reality is, there is this massive group of people in this country who drive drunk repeatedly and just never get caught. Or at least they haven’t been yet – one day they won’t be so lucky. Some people boast about their driving skills while others are more silent about their repeated choice to get behind the wheel after a few drinks. Last year my boyfriend and I were driving on the freeway behind a blue car that was clearly swerving over the lane back and forth and while we didn’t call 9-11 on the driver, we did follow them off the freeway and saw a police car finally spot their poor driving and pull them over. I was relieved the police got the driver off the street and no one got hurt.

Lessons Learned

Today I’m actually grateful for the woman who called 9-11 on me walking to my car that day. While I might have gotten home safe that night without hurting another person, that could have been a much uglier night. But what’s more – I clearly had a big problem, one that extended much broader than just my occasional alcohol binge to fight my anxiety and depression — and I needed help. I had gotten to the point where I wasn’t caring about my own well being and wasn’t thinking about how this may effect anyone else. I was selfish and a danger to myself and society. I needed a wake up call.

That wake up call set me back over $10,000, cut my pride in two, made it impossible to get into Canada, and shot me straight from the last flickering embers of my dumb youth into adulthood. I still wish that day never happened, and I still feel sick to my stomach thinking about that evening as I sobered up at the local police station and was driven in the back of a police car down to the county jail for the night.

I think about how humbling the experience was – going from being the girl who didn’t have so much as a sip of alcohol until college – the prude, abstinent one, the one who literally won a poster contest for M.A.D.D. (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) and was honored at one of their events, to the girl behind bars that they warned you about. The whole experience taught me a lot about judging people so harshly for their mistakes. I think, in a strange way, my progress after the DUI made me a better person – or at least a wiser one, now that I’ve lived through it to tell the tale. There are certainly much safer, more sane places to gain wisdom than one that could result in you spending the rest of your life in jail or worse.

Mental Health System Failures

What I didn’t expect was the amount of people who would find my blog (apparently it shows up in a lot of different searches for DUIs) and, barring the few trolls telling me how terrible of a person I am, how it would help many people who had, like myself, made a very bad decision, and were in a world of hell trying to recover from their mistake. I would get emails, sometimes very long emails, detailing out how much people could relate to my situation and how reading my blog posts about my DUI process made them feel a bit better and more able to handle the brunt of the storm to come.

I continue to be willing to offer my time and support to “DUI victims,” which includes the people who have untreated mental health issues which lead to their DUI arrest. I won’t respond to letters of people who are angry about getting arrested and feel they didn’t deserve it, but I’m happy to support those who know they made a terrible mistake, and who need help. If my blog can help someone bring some reality to their situation – see the light at the end of the tunnel, then writing about all this has served some good.