On the Cusp of a Dream

Every so often, the storm firing between my synapses leads me to seek an outside, expert opinion. I met a therapist in an online program, and it turned out that not only was her focus career guidance and work stress reduction, but she also lived locally enough where I could visit her in person. Realizing the online program wasn’t enough for my current needs, I signed off and signed on to her in-person services.

What I appreciate most about this woman is that she has a similar background working for technology companies in the communications field, so she understands some of the rewards and challenges that come with such a career choice. She is different from therapists I’ve seen before as she isn’t afraid to pay close attention to what I say and call me on where I’m getting in the way of my own happiness.

One trend she pointed out, which is 100% true, is that for the entirety of my career (and even college) I chose to be just-removed from what it is I actually want to do. For college, instead of majoring in acting, I majored in design — now, that may have been a good choice (my acting talent is limited to say the least), but it still is the first of many proof points of how I’ve been consistently too afraid to follow my dreams and self-selected to sit on the sidelines. When I had my heart set on directing, I secured a marketing internship at a theatre company, always longing to be in the rehearsals instead of promoting the end result. Then, as a journalist I loved writing human-interest stories for local communities, but I gave up on this in exchange for reporting on business news which had little heart or soul, only data and “scoops.” My work as a business journalist led me to what I thought I actually wanted to do – work in a startup company creating products (later I found out this role was titled “product manager” but I never got there, instead spending years building an impressive resume, on paper, as a career marketer.

What I’ve come to realize is that if you aren’t passionate about what you do on a day-to-day basis, especially if you are just one step removed from what it is you actually want to do, you find yourself in this professional limbo. You’re so close to doing something fulfilling and yet you sit from the sidelines watching others who are engaging in the work that drives them. Of course nothing is perfect, and everyone has their work stress no matter what the field, but I’m all for stress that ties to doing something meaningful. And while it’s important to be able to pay the bills and have savings, it’s time to stop thinking so short-term about my networth growth. Life is short enough, and there’s plenty of time to save.

As we got into what I really want to do with my life, a few different prospects came up. The one which I find most interesting is to become a therapist myself. I actually thinking I would enjoy this in many ways. I love to help people, and nothing fulfills me more than helping others in a one-on-one environment. There are many reasons I’m scared of a potential career in therapy – I know how hard it is, and how draining it can be. Your clients may be psychologically disturbed beyond the point you can help, they may be severely depressed, angry, or worse. As a therapist you hear horrible things and can’t talk to anyone about them due to confidentiality agreements. It sounds like a quite stressful job. But that’s the type of stress I could handle if I knew I was actually helping people on a daily basis.

I’ve always wanted to be known for something, but I know this is largely due to growing up with two narcissistic parents and not my actual inner intention. Well, in a way many people want to leave behind some sort of legacy – so this is just part of being human – but I don’t need to be famous in any way. That said, I believe if I follow my own path and become an expert in that which I am most interested in, I can easily become known for that via writing and sharing advice, should I chose to market myself.

I’m terrified of leaving the tech industry in pursuit of something entirely different – as much as this industry stresses me out I do enjoy being at the center of innovation. Walking out my door and seeing Google’s self-driving cars sweep down the street reminds me how I live here in the future; if New York was the place to be at the center of the future during the Mad Men era, well, that’s Silicon Valley today. When my genetically-altered grand children ask about life in the early 2000s, I can tell them about how before there were self-flying cars, there were self-driving ones that roamed the streets alongside cars that were, gasp, driven actually by people. Companies were only beginning to test drone delivery services, and this was outlawed by most of the country. We could 3D print human cells, but not the human mind yet, or full limbs, though we were rather close to this discovery…

There’s a dynamic pulse of life-changing innovation to living here that is one vibrant ingredient to the taste of the air here, from San Jose to San Francisco. As much as I miss what was a simpler time when I grew up in the 1980s, when one had to actually pause and rewind tapes in order to transcribe lyrics from their favorite songs, and had to pick up a phone connected to the wall should someone give them a call, and even had to write reports for school on a device that was fully mechanical, stamping ink letters onto paper as you thought what you would say versus printing all at once after a series of complex edits, I do love the world of change. Of leveraging technology to change the world for the better – to make processes more efficient, people more healthy, the world more connected…

It’s not to say I can’t be a therapist IN Silicon Valley (in fact, my therapist yesterday noted that she is filled to the brim with clients here, and has to turn down clients for certain days), but I fear not being part of the innovation, which I’ve come so close to tapping. Yet as a marketer my only innovation tapping is telling the stories of what other’s have created, and no say in what is created or how its user interface is rendered for human contact. I do know that I cannot spend the next 30+ years of my career telling stories of other’s creations. Either I find a way to get inside of this, to be the creator, or collaborator in such creation, or I accept that being on a product team is not my fate, and instead I appreciate rapid change from the outskirts of innovation, perhaps in my own maroon leather therapists chair, listening to the embers of innovation behind the privacy of a closed-door session.

 

Nothing Works Out Like You’ve Planned

The word of the day is “resilience” – meaning dealing with the shit life throws your way, because no matter your best efforts the, ahem, shit will be thrown. Being able to handle whatever the day has in store is the most important skill there is in surviving adulthood. Even the smartest, most talented people have setbacks. It’s up to us to remember that it’s those setbacks that make us stronger over the long term.

Relatedly, there are a number of reasons why I’m struggling significantly with my job right now. At the end of the day I manage to get hired for positions I’m not qualified for — largely because the people who are qualified for them are already in other jobs that come with a dose of sanity or at least a level of respect. In hindsight, I’m not qualified for much of anything, but I keep managing to convince people otherwise — or at least that I’m a good fit to clog up the hole for a while until budgets expand and I can be replaced.

It’s frustrating and not sustainable. Money isn’t everything. So what if I won’t make it to $2M or even $1M? I’ll figure it out. While I’m not the type that likes to work all the time around the clock I’m still the type that likes to work. I can’t see ever retiring without finding opportunities to earn a little income on the side. And if I do have kids, my bf and I will just figure it out. It isn’t worth killing myself over to get there.

I’m still upset about the whole situation — because there are parts of my job and the people I work with that I really like. I still go back to envisioning all that someone in my role can do for the company in a short amount of time, if I were actually good at my job. I see the pieces of what needs to be done but I don’t know how to get there. And, quite frankly, I’m a terrible manager and leader. This isn’t a pity party — leaders are organized and good project managers. I’m definitely creative and collaborative but I’m not the type who will ever be talented at this thing they call management. And you know what? I’m ok with that. I mean, it still makes me queasy to think I’ve come this far and it’s the furthest I can go – but it’s good to accept the situation for what it is.

Tracking Towards 2015 $400k Networth Goal

The big bumps in my networth have always come at times when other aspects of my life are completely out of whack. I am probably spending about 90% of my waking life on work right now, and that’s still not enough, but I’m really seeing successful growth in my personal networth, which will be very helpful later when I have kids and want more flexibility in life. Every time it gets really hard, I have to stop, breathe, and remind myself that there is an endgame to all of this.

The level to conquer this year is passing over $400k in networth. With this being my first year aiming to save $100k, anything could happen. For the last four years I’ve saved (with investment growth and actual savings) $50k per year, so this $100k savings is a huge leap – made possible only by that previous savings and investments, plus growth in my own career.

While I’m a bit OCD about tracking my progress, it helps to see numbers hit month after month. It’s quite motivating to keep focused on the long-term picture.

I have a google spreadsheet where I’ve estimated were I should be bi-weekly for my networth throughout the year to keep on top of my progress. The stock market is always going to go up and down and up and down, so I won’t always be quite on track, but if I do notice that my progress isn’t where it should be, I’ll be extra frugal and invest more of my paycheck that month. If the market is performing well, I’ll usually pick a few individual stocks to invest in that have strong long-term prospects but haven’t done well in the short term. Usually I’ll just invest in index funds or wait until my portfolio is down a bit more and then buy more index funds. I like Vanguard because I can dollar cost average there for free, and I like Loyal3 to buy stocks because I can purchase them for free as well (I need to try out Robinhood too.) No more Sharebuilder investing, $7 trades for me!

Today, my “actual” networth (not including my car but including about $16k in private company stock that will likely be worthless in a year or two), is $322.6k, which is slightly over the goal for 3/15/2015 ($320.8k.) I’m pretty much right on track (always like to be trending slightly above target than under if possible.) There is still a long way left to $400k, of course ($77.4k to be exact) but it’s achievable if markets perform well. If I keep my job for the remainder of the year, I can realistically save $5k a month, or $45k for the rest of the year, which brings me to $367, $43k short of goal. It will take strong bonus income and investment growth to actually hit this number. Yet I’m at the least tracking to goal.

I’ll be satisfied if I end the year with $375k in networth, but am pushing myself to get to $400k. At $400k, if I can see 5% growth in 2016, that’s $20k of my $100k savings goal for the year taken care of – and if I see 10% growth, then that’s $40k of it, which would be a huge help.

I’m not sure how the next two years are going to play out – everything is so shaky and uncertain right now. I feel confident that I’ll be able to get to $350k networth this year (tracking towards my prior goal of $50k increase per year) but there’s a chance I could go well over that. I’ve just given myself $400k as a stretch goal to see how far I can, well, stretch to get there.

One thing is for certain – when I do have kids, there is no way in hell I would want to do a job like this. My current role is perfect for people who have no kids and no life. I’m ok with that for a year, or two, but then I’m going to figure out how to transition to a role that will likely pay a lot less and require a lot less hours – so I can finally find some form of work-life balance, or just overall life balance. Sigh, that would be nice.

 

 

My Parents, My Aunt’s New House, and Taxes

If my father were to find out that I hadn’t filed taxes for four years, I would never hear the end of it. He would basically tell me I’m a horrible, disorganized person who is so irresponsible. I hear his voice now, sighing my name in judgement-filled disappointment. And that judgement would kick me straight in the stomach yet again, because I’d believe that there is something truly wrong with me, and that I’ll never be able to resolve my deep-rooted mess of a self.

But when it’s my own father who hasn’t filed the taxes, well, then the world is out to get him. He is being kind of enough to co-sign a loan for my divorced aunt who is attempting to purchase a house, and in order to do this they’ve asked for two years worth of back taxes documentation. Well, he doesn’t have that because while he’s paid what he believes he owes, he’s never actually filed for 2011-2013.

The reality of the situation is that both of my parents could be in very big trouble for not filing taxes. It sounds like he has actually paid the amount owed, but he can’t know for sure because he hasn’t actually filed and filled out the paperwork. My mother is concerned about this, of course, but whenever she brings it up with him he will go off on her and call her a jerk. He really likes to call her a jerk.

It’s so unfortunate for her to be in this spot where she has absolutely no control over the finances. If they were to be audited they could both be thrown in jail. Now, you could say that she should be more pro-active in ensuring her own taxes are filed on time, but my father keeps all of the financial information in boxes that even he isn’t able to find easily. He’s been procrastinating on filing taxes because everything is a giant mess. I wonder where I get this being a mess thing from, hmm.

To be “fair” to my father, he does have terminal prostate cancer, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to spend his remaining days doing taxes. Maybe in his mind, since the doctors told him he would die five years ago, he was putting it off so that he’d never actually have to deal with it. Who knows. It’s hard to task a dying man with filing paperwork to the IRS, but he’s lived much longer than the doctors have thought and he typically spends his days not schlepping up to Sloan Kettering in NYC watching television or napping.

I’m concerned about my parents, but there really isn’t anything I can do. My dad is so ridiculously stubborn and he won’t change that. He spent a good ten minutes yelling (over the phone) at my aunt’s loan officer because he thought that he only had to show two years of taxes for 2013 and 2014, and in fact they need 2012 and 2013. Well, he just loves to yell. He’s just so angry and I don’t know if I’ve ever met a person with more anger in his heart – no empathy at all for other people just trying to do their job – no concern for his own wife who he could be setting up for jail time. No, he’ll just spend all his time screaming at everyone else, because the whole world is against him, clearly.

What is a grown adult daughter to do in these situations? My mother is dealing with her own mother’s finances and taxes, which is quite ironic given she doesn’t have a handle on her own. My mother doesn’t get sad, ever – as the daughter of a narcissist herself she was not allowed to have emotions – but she is clearly frustrated by my father’s failure to just pay the taxes. She laughs it off with her nervous laugh, because her only emotion as far as I can tell is “anxious.” There is nothing I can do, but it upsets me that my father, even after all of these years, even after he has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, even after his children have grown up and removed that stress from him, is still as bitter, selfish, and full of rage as he ever was. I’d like for there to be a day when he finally realizes that the world isn’t out to get him, that criticism can be constructive, that people deserve to be treated with respect. But that will never happen. I only get to hope that my parents do not end up in jail and my dad finally files the taxes.

Hitting the Wall Hard

There are things one can learn to do, and then there are things ones naturally abilities, or lack there of, limit them from doing. Today, I feel incredibly lost, afraid, and unsure of my next steps. I was hoping by this part of my life I’d have my shit together. Not so. It appears no one really has their shit together, just some people are better at faking it until it starts to make a bit more sense.

I am deeply saddened by the situation. I know I spend too much time caught up in what I am unable to do so my productivity on the things I am able to do is reduced as well. It’s not an ideal situation to say the least. I’m contemplating a complete career change but I’m terrified and while I have many interests, I don’t know where I’d actually be sustainably successful. I do know that the only thing that makes me happy is helping other people. The highlight of my last week was helping a woman from another country who didn’t speak English understand how to use the ticketing machine at the train station.

While I am inspired by helping people, when I feel my job does not actually help anyone it makes me go bonkers. When I see that instead of helping I am actually hurting other people, I drop into a deep depression. While I’m not sure I would have been consistently responsible enough to be a doctor or anything, I fear that my actual calling was some form of healthcare, but I never understood myself enough to pursue much of anything. I just rolled with the punches, and the punches sent me along this bumpy, somewhat lucrative ride which leads me where I am today – completely lost, afraid, alone, and hating myself more and more for not just getting my shit together.

Yet at the end of the day it’s clear that I do not have what it takes to be successful in this role. I’ve had the great fortune to be able to experience leadership and see that I am not built to be this kind of leader. It’s rather astounding that I have managed to get this far, though I am an imposter and cannot succeed further. While I know this sounds overly dramatic, the reality is that I’m too sensitive for business. I also cannot make fast decisions and spend too much time overanalyzing things I shouldn’t while too little time under analyzing things I should [analyze.] How much can I really improve? When do I put up the white flag and surrender? And, where do I go once I do?