Category Archives: Life as I Know It

Shameless, Simple Self Indulgence: It begins with water.

What I want to learn is how to indulge myself while avoiding decadence, to find a way to allow myself to take pleasure in the things that are actually good for me, not just those that are actually damaging. It’s a difficult lesson to learn when you were never taught how to believe you deserve anything in childhood, when you were trained to feel guilty for everything you had, and that you didn’t have to earn something, you either deserved it or didn’t. Period.

This weekend I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of indulgence, and granting myself permission for shameless – healthy – self indulgence. I still have this mental block that makes it impossible to allow myself to indulge in things that are positive for me — exercise, volunteering, reading, even cleaning — and instead find it so much easier to indulge in avoidant behavior — shopping, sex and related activities, mindless television viewing, wasting time on the internet, etc.

Is there a certain type of parenting that makes a person able to seek out positive indulgences? The whole capitalistic world is built around indulgence, and in general humanity has a history of wanting the finer pleasures of life, from love to beauty.

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The Currency of Time: Life’s Most Precious Commodity

Lately I’ve been trying to compute the currency of time.

Not every second holds the same value as the next. And value is relative — sleep seconds, for instance, are highly valuable cohesively, yet alone they are nights of insomnia dosed with fissures of awareness. The same goes for time to spend with family, friends, or even yourself, outside of your daily work hours. What is the value of that time? High, surely, but how high? What if you spend four years of your life dedicated to work, almost every minute of your life, to build a successful company, so the rest of your life requires less stress over earning and the ability to appreciate time more — making time more valuable.

At this very moment, I’m sitting on a plane (in first class again – yeay, elite status upgrades) and — after two bloody marys — am quite introspective. God, I only had one and a half bloody marys — they make these very strong in first class! Regardless, I’m once again pondering time as currency, because time itself is the most limited commodity, therefore it’s the most valuable. I also owe you all a post, since I’ve been incredibly busy with — work (and rewarding work at that) — and haven’t had time to write. Or haven’t known what to write about. But now, sweet readers, I impart my thoughts on the most valuable currency of all, the limited moments we have here on this earth between birth and death that are quickly flying by as we sit at our desks, stressing over something that in the grand scheme of things, as far as the meaning, or lack of meaning, of life itself, is not that important, beyond purchasing for more “time” with an investment in today’s time value.

My job doesn’t need to require all nighters, but I do my best work at night, and need to be at the office during the day to handle the thousands of little things that come up — an interview to schedule, a event to coordinate, a new graphic to manage the design process for, and so on. I’m completely overwhelmed by my role and terrified I’ll be replaced. There’s the alcohol truth serum speaking up. I like drinking, occasionally, on flights, because it gives me time to think, straight or crooked I’m not sure, but at the very least, I feel calm, and can process simpler important matters without worrying about the bigger picture.

But back to the point of this point — what is the value of time, and does it make sense to trade in time now for time later? As the company that acquired my former company announces its IPO, I realize that, although I’ll never see a dollar of that success, wealth is within reach. Wealth, not as in becoming a billionaire, but as in earning $1M before I turn 32. Granted, this isn’t a requirement by any means, but it’s more of a possibility now than ever. There are days I believe — despite my ardent atheism — that there must be some great screenwriter above writing my life story. It’s too funny how things work out, or don’t work out, but if you keep pushing, keep going, eventually something works out.

Two bloody marys and a red wine into this 1 hr flight before I have a stopover and get on my next flight, I’m, admittedly, extremely intoxicated. Not to the point of feeling sick, but to the point I love, occasionally, on extremely rare occasions, by myself, when the rest of the world just disappears, where I’m in my mind, in a place where I can examine what matters and what doesn’t.

Red wine, done.

I don’t want to be a billionaire. I’d like to have a million dollars at 30 or 32. To invest most of it and live a simple life. To pay rent off my boyfriend’s salary. To have a family — three kids — we’ve already named them, go figure — and to love them more than anything. I want to paint, to write, to do all the things I have absolutely no time for right now. I want to kick ass in my current role and be a leader in helping this company be extraordinarily succcessful. On one hand, that sounds ridiculous. On the other hand, it’s possible.

It’s so possible it really seems like it’s scripted. I invested $20k into my stock options because, quite frankly, I’ve been blessed (in a non religious sense) with a CEO/boss who is brilliant, who I trust, who knows how to build an extremely valuable company. I don’t know what my place is in that company, as I think I’ll be replaced, or “superior-ized” as a VP is brought in to manage me once it really matters — but I really want to prove I can do that. I can kick ass. I can help our entire company be successful. I love that. For the first time in my life, I believe I have the opportunity to make a difference in the company. If we’re ever to be worth billions of dollars, I’m going to own up to the fact that there’s a good change I’ll have something to do with it. Incredible. That job of mine is not being done well now. I need time to focus. Time to read and learn as much as possible. That time is not available. That time is spent worrying, and then working through the night. I love the night. I wish I had the day to read books about marketing and analytics and the night to work. But I can’t have that — I just need to be amazing at what I do have. The opportunity is there. I don’t want to fuck this up.

Which brings me back to — time. I am more than willing to give all of my time to work now, so I can live the life I want later. I don’t know what that life is — maybe it’s painting, having a family, starting my own business, volunteering — whatever it is — I know money is the only answer to that end goal. It isn’t the answer for everyone. I don’t want to be a billionaire. I don’t want a big house. I want time. How much does time cost? Maybe more than a big house. But that’s what I want. How can I get it? How can I help my company succeed? That is all I want right now.

Living in the Shadow of My Narcissistic Parents – Part 1

I wanted to be excited about my father’s visit this week. Even though my dad and I aren’t what you’d call the best of friends, I was looking forward to his visit. Ill with terminal cancer, the last time he was supposed to visit, three years ago – when a show I was directing was being performed – he fell ill and was unable to make the trip. That illness turned out to be late-stage cancer, and he was given the prognosis of two years to live.

Three years later, he’s still alive, noticeably weaker, but his other health issues including obesity and diabetes also contribute to his fragile state. And it’s perhaps a miracle that he is healthy enough to have made the trip across the country today, on his own.  And – although I see him maybe twice a year when I visit back east – I was excited to have him visit me in California, on my turf, to “show him” how far I’ve come.

But spending time with him is always futile to my psyche. He’s just a bitter, stubborn man with a quick temper, underneath a shallow layer of narcissism where everything done by anyone else is someone either due to his brilliance or out to get him. I honestly don’t think any interaction I’ve had with him in my life hasn’t been on one of those two extremes. Today was no exception.

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Happy Mother’s Day — a Long Distance Family Relationship

2,797. That’s the number of miles between where I currently live and where my parents live. 6. That’s the number of hours it takes to fly from coast to coast to visit, not counting the 2+ hours on either end to get to and from the airport. $350. That’s the average cost of a RT ticket between each destination, on a non-holiday travel schedule.

On holidays, my family, including my parents, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents tend to gather together and spend the day talking and enjoying each others company. Even though I didn’t have a very close relationship with my family, I cherished the time spent together, the conversations had, and laughter shared between my relatives.

Then, 10 years ago I moved away from home. First, for college, I moved 814 miles away from home, and then, when I graduated, moved even further away.

In that time, my parents, cousins, grandparents, have all aged. I see them at most two or three times per year. Three years ago my father was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and told he had two years to live. My grandfather, over the last ten years, has lost his sharpness due to Parkinson’s disease. I can barely recognize my mother, as she looks more and more like a “grandmother” every time I see her. My cousins have gone from elementary students to taller than me, and I missed everything in between. My sister is now a junior in college — I left home when she was seven.

10 years ago, I wanted nothing more than to run away from my childhood, to start a new life for myself, to prove that I could make it on my own. Had I stayed in New Jersey I might have maintained a more consistent relationship with my family, but I never would have grown up. I needed to get away. But looking back, I do feel a bit of regret. Of missing the time with my family.

On the other hand, seeing my family less frequently makes those times shared more valuable and appreciated. My parents drive me absolutely crazy, with their fighting and complaining about everything, so living at or very near home would probably be a poor decision. Still, I’m contemplating a move back east, maybe not in the very near future, but in the coming years — I still have more good friends in New Jersey and on the east coast than I do in California, and whenever I envision having a family (ie kids) I see myself raising them back on the east coast. California, as much as I love it, will never feel like “home” to me. That’s not a terrible thing — home can be boring, California, for what it’s worth, still makes me feel like I live on constant vacation, as the weather is always relatively nice, and the landscape is beautiful. But I miss my family and friends. And I think I’m getting more and more ready to go back.

Yesterday, my boyfriend asked me if I’d ever want to live on the east coast. He rarely discusses the future — he hates to think long term beyond next week — so it was a conversation I was not prepared for. I didn’t have an answer then, really. Yes? No? Could I leave California — a place that, just by being outside here, makes me happy — to go back to a place that is depressing for half of the year during those dark, cold winters? Maybe. Maybe I have to, at some point. Maybe California has given me the opportunities I needed to kick start my career, and perhaps my experience here will open doors for me in New York. Who knows. I just think that as I approach 30, and as I approach my 5th anniversary with my boyfriend, and likely marriage and settling down in the next few years, deep down I feel like that has to be in New Jersey or New York. I can’t imagine raising my children away from my family. I want them to grow up with that. But I’m not sure I’m ready to make the move just yet.

But one thing I’ve learned lately is that money doesn’t make me happy, relationships make me happy. It’s extremely hard for me to make friends, and I generally have trouble relating to people (esp people outside of the tri-state area) — my family will always be my family, but if I never see them, I’m throwing out the most priceless item in my life’s possession. The more pictures I see on Facebook of family gatherings, the more smiles of my family posing for a large group photo and I’m not there, the more I realize it’s time to rethink the whole “I don’t need family” thing. I mean, right now no one is dead, thank goodness, but I can’t imagine the guilt I’d feel if one day I get a call that anyone in my family has passed… or is in the hospital with only hours to live, and I missed the opportunity to see them, and to be there when they were healthy, and when they were ill. I think in that sense I need to move back, the question just is when.

I Fired my Life Coach

Well, I didn’t actually “fire” her — I just told her that I wouldn’t be continuing with my regular weekly sessions at this point.

After years of going to therapy on and off, I thought perhaps what I really needed was a life coach to help me figure out how to manage my time and feel like I was leading a successful, productive life. I sought out an ADHD life coach specifically because I thought they’d be able to help me best focus on the time management issues and all the other things that relate to my being ADHD.

She was trying to earn her certificate, so the actual coaching was on the cheap side — $10 per half hour session by phone, totaling $40 a month. But after a few months of meeting with her weekly, I knew I wasn’t getting anywhere. It wasn’t her fault at all, I just realized that I’m not the type of person who can benefit from a “coach.” I tend to rebel against authority even when I’m paying for it, so the whole concept behind coaching backfired on me.

However, I did get an education in how to think about prioritizing my life, and how over committing is not the right tool for success. Without the authority role in the picture, I am hoping I can take some of the learnings and apply them, perhaps having value out of the months of life coaching yet.

Have you ever gone to a life coach? Do you have a success story?

The Cycle of Addiction, Binging, and Quest for Control

I believe that most, if not all of our psychological disorders stem from the need to be in control, and the reality that control – even when felt certainly – is an illusion. You can be Albert Einstein or Britney Spears, and in the end still end up six feet under, eaten by worms, and eventually dissolved into a thousand nanoscale bits spread across the universe.

Of course, on a day to day basis, control is more about feeling an ownership of time instead of time owning you. It’s about accomplishments large and small. It’s about praise and pride. Success has never felt like control to me, however. Success is the scariest feat of all… because once you succeed, the expectations are higher the next time you try, and you have a lot further to fall.

This leads to my admittance that — my name is Joy and I’m a — addiction-aholic. That is, there are a lot of things I do that i wish I didn’t do that I haven’t been able to stop myself from doing, or things I should do that I can’t force myself to do as often as I should. That is unhealthy, and something I’d like to solve in any way possible.

Luckily, I never ended up addicted to drugs or alcohol, but my addictions range the gamut. Shopping. Eating. Avoiding. Procrastinating. I’m addicted to binging because it makes me feel in control, if just for a moment. It lets me say — fuck you world, I’ll never be thin, so I might as well just eat and eat because it feels good… because I can do it, because no one can stop me from eating this entire box of Oreos until it’s gone — because the only person I’m hurting is myself, and it feels good to stuff my face, to empty one column of cookies from their slots and the next, to hide in my room and finish as quickly as possible to be done with it.

I used to be the same way with shopping — go to the mall, or the bargain store — and buy things I didn’t need because THAT gave me the same sense of control. It made me feel good. It was a rush… of something I could do for myself, on my own, with no one else knowing. I was in charge and in control as much as I had given up on any real control.

Do I have an eating disorder? A shopping disorder? Yes, and yes. I am an addict. And I need to stop the cycle of self abuse. But, like any other addict, I love it. Why? Is it that I feel I deserve the abuse? Yes, probably. Growing up my parents taught me to second guess myself, to not trust myself, that I was always wrong and other people were always right. Spending money, eating junk food, wasting time watching tv instead of being productive or even reading a book… forgetting how to concentrate… and finding a wild talent for daydreaming between binges, was my life. Continue reading

10 Things I Wish I Told Myself When I Was 18

1. You really should be putting some of that money you’re making into a Roth IRA.

2. Focus on getting jobs and internships sooner than later, or else you will have to waste a year or more out of college building up job experience before you can find a meaningful job. Plus, a lot of internships are only available to college students, and the best internships want you to have prior internship experience!

3. How much money will you need to support your lifestyle? Pay attention to this when choosing your career.

4. Don’t spend so much money on “sale” items that you don’t love. Buy things that you really like, that you’ll get a lot of use out of in the years to come.

5. Drink 8 glasses of water per day. A large part of your inability to focus and study, and your headaches, is because you’re dehydrated all the time.

6. Travel more now, because you won’t have time later.

7. Spend more time forcing yourself to meet people and develop a social life. Learning social skills in college is just as important as what you learn in the classroom.

8. Don’t let your insecurities get in the way of your happiness. Don’t let yourself feel like you’re beneath everyone. You’re not. And you are going to make yourself very depressed by thinking this.

9. Take classes that provide practical knowledge as well as classes that are steeped in academia. It’s more valuable for you to learn how to be good at graphic design than to take another sociology class you thought sounded interesting. You aren’t going to get a job with sociology.

10. Get in the habit of exercising, and surround yourself with friends who enjoy going to the gym, and going out for walks and runs. You will feel much better if you start an exercise routine, and ultimately be a better student and happier person.

What are 10 things you wish you could tell your 18 year old self?

Not Even Money Can Buy My Happiness

Let me go on record by saying that I have no right to be depressed. There are thousands who have lost their houses or lives in Japan, civil wars killing people daily in Libya, the Ivory Coast, and around the world. Meanwhile, I have a job with pay that comfortably puts me in the upper middle class. I’m healthier than most, and all-in-all leading a good life.

But I still feel empty. My problem is largely cognitive. It is feeling both that I am completely out of control of my life, that time is flying by too fast, and too slow, and that I have no purpose, no place I’m headed towards, just lots of time to waste until I get older and eventually die.

Ok, so if that’s the way I think, no wonder I’m depressed. I really want to change my thoughts — to be grateful for all I have, the priceless moments, unexpected, that make it worth living another day. This is not to say I’m suicidal — I’m not. I’m just wondering how to take my life from watching the days go by to making the days matter.

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The Money Offender: My 10 Worst Financial Moves

Looking back over the past 5.5 years since I graduated college, I’ve made some good… and some bad money moves. In line of trying to figure out what wisdom I have to impart via this blog on personal finance and related, I’ve made a list I thought I’d share of the top 10 smart money moves I’ve made, and 10 things I need to improve on. First, the list of 10 of my work money moves…

1) My food spend is WAY too high!
I spend too much money on food each month, and I don’t even eat that well. I skip meals all the time and end up so hungry I overspend at restaurants.
GOAL: Spend less than $200 a month on food

2) I splurge when I’m shopping.
While I’ve been pretty good lately at avoiding the mall, I still have enough times over the year when I went to the mall, or even an outlet store, and spent $200 to $1000 in one visit, often on items that I wore a couple of times.
GOAL: Make an annual budget for clothes and stick to it!

3) Wasting my gym membership.
I’m paying $35 a month and… haven’t been to the gym in a year. Yes, I want to work out and be healthy, but I hate the gym and when I do work out I like to do so outside or with an exercise video at home, not at the gym.
GOAL: Either use gym 2 times a week minimum, or cancel my gym membership May 1.

4) I should spending MORE on seeing family and friends back east.
This is actually a place I’m saving money, because I go back to NJ (where my family is) from California about two times a year. The flight isn’t exactly cheap. But life is short, and I miss my family. The older I get, the sadder I feel missing the holidays and family get togethers. Plus, my father is ill with terminal cancer, and while we aren’t exactly best friends, I know I’m going to regret the infrequent visits. I think it’s worth spending $300-$400 every 3 months to take a trip home, even for a weekend, to see my family and friends at home.
GOAL: budget more frequent trips home and see if boss will let me work from east coast for one week a quarter (he already agreed to this, but I haven’t pursued it yet.)

5) I’ve Treated my car poorly.
Five years ago, I bought my ’99 Toyota Solara with 130k miles on it for $7k. Granted, it’s lated 5 years, so that’s not too bad. But along the way the car has collected quite a few dings, and most recently, had half of the front bumper ripped off in an accident that was not my fault, but also was not provably the other person’s fault. I haven’t brought the car in for super regular oil changes, and while it hasn’t had a lot of problems I can definitely feel it’s getting to the end of it’s life. It now has 182k miles on it, but if I treated the car better I probably could have gotten to 250k miles… now it feels like it’s going to die at 200.
GOAL: If / when I buy a new car, be sure to take better care of it, to get the longest life out of the car.

6) Spending too much on investing fees
The way I invest is pretty stupid, but I forgive myself because if I wasn’t investing the money I’d be spending it on #2 (shopping splurges.) My worst offense is my Sharebuilder account, which I pay $12 a month for to get 12 free automatic trades, and I often pay extra on that because I put smaller amounts into stocks each week. It’s kind of dollar-cost averaging but I do it wrong so it’s more or less stupid. My Sharebuilder account is up 10% right now, which is ok, but I could be up 10% investing in a mutual fund this year or one ETF this year, with lower fees.
GOAL: Pay attention to (and account for) how much money I’m spending on my stock transactions!

7) Outgrowing my clothes (due to #3.)
My weight is all over the place, and this requires me to go to the mall often which results in #2.
GOAL: Use #3 to Solve This Problem

8) Not cooking / packing lunch for work.
I spend too much money eating out (#1) because I rarely cook.
GOAL: find low-cost, easy-to-make meals for my bachelorette self.

9) Getting my hair cut twice a year… is not enough
Why is this in my “poor money choices” section? Because after a few months, my hair gets kind of gnarly. While I could get away with that in college, I’m now in a director-level role and need to maintain myself, and my hair.
GOAL: Get my hair cut every 3 months, not every 6 months.

10)  Paying things late.
I’m the worst offender here. I tend to pay my credit card bills on time, but I’ve missed a few there too. Like the one $10 account balance that ended up costing me $50 in late fees. Then there’s the late parking tickets, which add up fast.
GOAL: pay all bills on time, right when I get them.

What are your Top 10 Worst Money Moves, and what goals can you set to improve these in 2011?

The Cost of Having a Social Life: $200 and a High Tea Weekend

Four separate checks were brought to our table, with four separate pens with the elegant Neiman Marcus logo scripted on their sides in gold ink. Two hours of quality social interaction was ready to be swiped on my credit card bill for $44 plus tip.

The $44 wasn’t about to put me in debt, but the cost of my social weekend was adding up. Most of my weekends are spent hibernating in my apartment and being a couch potato, which is probably for the better, because once I get out I end up spending way too much money.

My expensive weekend started on Saturday night, when I had dinner with my aunt. We split a bottle of wine and each had an entree. The cost of that meal was split, and put a $50 something charge on my account.

The next morning, I drove to the city, and borrowed $20 from my aunt for a $6 bridge toll (which ended up costing me a lot more than $20 in repayment… I’ll explain in a minute.) I spent $12 on breakfast meeting with a friend, and then went to a coffee shop to get some work done and waste a few hours before another dinner with my aunt, along with my cousin and their friend. But a good friend saw a Facebook update of mine that mentioned I was in the city and called me with an invite to high tea at Neiman Marcus. A fan of tea, high tea, and friends, not to mention jealous of all the women who were at the coffee shop with their own Sex & the City cliques, I immediately accepted the invite, not thinking of the expense.

So I drove across the city and found a free spot on the street about a half mile from Union Square. I felt giddy on the walk down to the restaurant, excited for this random invite to high tea with my friend that I hadn’t seen in ages and two women who I hadn’t met yet.

The tea menu had three options, starting at $37. Then there were two more expensive options with champagne. I didn’t need champagne, but as the other women decided on it (the mid priced option) I figured we’d end up splitting the bill anyway, so I might as well indulge. And the entire experience was so worth it — the conversation, the tiny tea sandwiches (which I scarfed down despite not being hungry), the champagne, the delicious fruity black tea… and at that point my weekend had added up to about $110 for dinner, breakfast and lunch, not counting the cost of gas. And the women I had tea with weren’t about to spend that much on tea the next weekend — we all discussed making this a seasonal thing, with our next high tea at another restaurant tentatively scheduled for June.

After tea, I went straight to dinner at a sushi place. I wasn’t hungry at all at that point, but everyone decided it would be best to share a few rolls. They were really good, so I had some of the sushi, when I shouldn’t have even eaten anything more at that point. Dinner was enjoyable, and I was so happy to be having one great social experience after another… when normally I’m depressed due to being a hermit or nervous due to being in awkward large social experiences where I don’t know how to interact with people. That dinner, however, ended up costing me something like $70. My aunt brought up that I owe her $20… which I did… and I paid the bill plus tip, which came out to something around $84. She gave me $13 cash.

So my social life this weekend cost me $200. One thing I’ve been thinking is how much more money I would spend if I move to the city… not just on an apartment, but on all the things I will do (and eat.) At least living in the burbs makes it impossible for me to have the opportunities to spend a lot on being social… well, mostly because my friends all live in the city. But then… what’s life without these experiences? I’m making $90k a year and I feel guilty for spending money… I’ve become such a miser. And despite not exactly saving as much as I could, I’m also greatly limiting my life experiences right now so I may have enough money to live in retirement. It’s a major trade off.. and I’m starting to think a social life today… and my happiness today… may be more valuable than an extra couple thousand dollars down the road. What do you think? How much money do you spend on your social life?