Do I Choose to be Stressed?

A friend of mine, a stay-at-home mother who is married to an engineer who is likely earning over $200k a year, has told me to stop making choices that make me so stressed. I should go to a mindfulness class, she says, as this helped her resolve the majority of her own anxieties. They aren’t rich by any means for this area, but they do have a small condo that the husband’s parents purchased and they are renting the unit from them. I agree with her that I put myself in stressful situations and even when I don’t I have a tendency to stress about every little thing, but it’s hard to have a conversation with her about the stress I feel about money and the ability to live a comfortable life. I hear my mother’s voice, someone who doesn’t really want to understand money or retirement savings, but who just assumes it will all work out. And maybe it will for her. And maybe it will for me. But maybe not.

In the case of my life, I just don’t see it all magically working out. I have to make it work. And,  yes, that is stressful. I am literally making the choice between jobs that will pay over $150k and jobs that would pay $60k — and the crazy thing is it’s easier to get hired in the former right now. Those well-paid jobs come with a heaping dose of responsibility and the corresponding stress.

Here I am, one month from turning 32, and — this is the year I’ll get married and when I want to try to have children. I know having children will be challenging due to my health issues, and I also know that stress can contribute to infertility and miscarriages. I need to focus on being healthy and stress-free right now, but that’s hard to do when I am staring down these startup jobs that I’ll always feel under-qualified for and incapable of any sustained success. And just logistically these companies don’t have paid leave for maternity or anything, so I’d basically have to quit when I have a kid, if I have a kid. Which really sucks since I’m currently the breadwinner (well, at least prior to getting the axe!) I don’t know how I can make this work. It works FINE now – living in a one bedroom apartment and being ok with having to move if our rent goes up too much… but I can’t do this with kids. I mean, people DO do this with kids. But if I’m stressed now… then I can’t imagine how I’d feel then. And I don’t want to be a stressed out mother around my future children.

Today, I’m trying to decide whether to do COBRA for health insurance or to purchase it on my own. Neither option is great. For $550 a month I can have a $1500 deductible plan… or I can buy my own and do something like $350 a month for a $5000 deductible. In either case, it’s just a catastrophic plan and any other health needs… like… pregnancy stuff… wouldn’t be covered (well, it would go towards that impossibly high deductible or not at all.) My fiance doesn’t have insurance through work so it’s not like I’ll be better off when married. We’ll just be paying more in tax (if we’re both working) as our big reward for tying the knot.

I know I’m fortunate to even have these problems… but the next few years of my life are legitimately terrifying. These are the years when I either become a mother OR become a woman who never has kids. Either is a major, major life-defining situation. I want kids, even though I’ll never feel ready. I don’t want to watch my 30s go by and have just let work become the only thing that matters in life. And I’m the type of person that is all or nothing — it’s so hard for me to be just enough, but not too much, especially when in the startup world the general unspoken agreement is that you should work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week (give or take.)

Becoming a contractor would be ideal – for the flexibility – but then I’ll really have to deal with the health insurance situation… I mean, after rent, health insurance, and car insurance … that’s about $1800 a month right now. I just don’t think I can – for the long term – do the consultant thing. I think, even though the stability kills my drive, I need it. I just don’t know WHAT to do. It’s not like I can bring up the whole “hey… so I may get pregnant in the next year or two… and also, I may need to take crazy hormones and take time off of work in order to get pregnant because my body doesn’t work so can I negotiate some of flexibility into this contract or you know what just go hire some woman who doesn’t want kids or who already has them at least or just someone who probably won’t have substantial medical issues trying to get pregnant.”

My friend would tell me that I shouldn’t be stressing over this. But, I guess, I would want to ask her if she’d be stressed if she didn’t have a stable place to live and a husband with such a well-paid, high-stress career. She says she doesn’t care about money but I know she likes nice things — she has good taste — and I know she says she doesn’t really care about money because that would be too stressful, but that’s because at this point, perhaps, she doesn’t have to care, or she chooses not to think about it or be involved in her financial future.

There really isn’t anyone I know who is in a similar situation either — my friends here (the female ones) are either married and stay-at-home mothers or part-time self-employed types with husbands who have high-paid tech jobs, or they’re in a situation where they’re making about the same as their significant others and will probably leave the area since their careers don’t provide the salaries needed to last here. I don’t relate to (or have any friends to people who are) powerful women who have high-paid jobs. I mean, I’m not that type, I’m just faking it… for now. I really want to just tell these companies I’m interviewing for all the reasons they shouldn’t hire me… because I’m so tired of being a good interviewer but then feeling like I just don’t know what to do or how to do it when I start – or especially after I get through the few things I know how to do… and am left with a whole bunch of “figure it out” that never goes so well when I’m in charge.









So many doors… but are any of them the right ones?

Amazingly enough, I have 3+ almost opportunities on the table today. Each is very different, yet they’re all generally in this field which I think I need to leave. It’s just very hard to change careers when people are practically begging you to work for them doing what you’re supposedly good at doing. Somehow I manage to interview well but it’s the day-to-day management of the details that is just not my forte. All of the opps have their pros and cons. I’m waiting on the offers to see what the packages would be, but this time around I REALLY don’t want to pick based on salary alone (yes, last time I opted for a package worth at least $40k more but look where that got me… well, $50k closer to my financial goals but otherwise back where I started!)

I hate decisions. I really would prefer to become a consultant and freelance so I could work for numerous companies and there would never be an issue with staying at a place for 3 or 6 months, as that’s part of consulting. I found it quite hilarious and at the same time disheartening when an old boss who knows me quite well, and actually likes the work I did, told me on a call the other day that managing people isn’t my forte. He also went on to tell me that it’s not good that I’ve had a series of short stints in jobs (I didn’t tell him that I was actually axed from this one, I just said it’s time to move on) and he went on and on about how bad it is to be in jobs for such short amounts of time, and proceeded immediately to ask me if I’d want to work for his company. But he does have a point – it doesn’t look the greatest to just be in jobs 6 months or even a year. In this field a year is the minimum one can do full time without seeming like a job jumper… but after a while, in more senior roles, it’s really ideal to stay longer… at least 2-3 years, if not more.

Beyond the career tenure (or lack thereof) what really struck me most was his reminder that I’m not a detail-oriented management type. The unfortunate thing is the two roles I’m very far along on are both more management positions — one is a much smaller company so there’d be more day-to-day, hands on work — whereas the larger company would probably be more strategy and then driving that to execution. And I’m still pretty certain that this whole field is just wrong for me to begin with. I just feel so stuck. I’m too scared to make any drastic changes. It seems just dumb now — even if I don’t make as much as  I was making this past year I should still be doing reasonably well. If I start over… who knows.

For being such a fuck up I’ve done ok so far but it’s time to get serious. Down to business. I can’t just keep making the same career mistakes over and over again. I’m very nervous about the upcoming negotiations with the two firms all while continuing to interview with others and to somehow ensure my old boss provides a good reference (again) even though he thinks I can’t manage a jar of fruit flies.

I try to remind myself that there is some truth to the companies I’ve worked for just being – hot messes – but it’s my fault to put myself in those situations and worse it’s my fault to not figure out how to survive them. Other people I know are just so much better at that.

The Unemployment Rollercoaster

There are so few times in life when you have your health and you’re neither in school or employed. For the lucky few who can afford a period of time out of work without a complete financial meltdown, this should be a time to stop, reflect, and even, god forbid, enjoy life for a minute or two. I really wish I could do that, but as always I’m a heaping ball of anxiety. I can’t just let go and allow life to roll me on its merry way, wherever that shall be. And all the anxiety is getting me sick, for I’m coming down with some kind of cold, because my body has finally let go and accepted its own weakness.

I don’t know how to interview right now. I have interviews — interview #5 with a larger startup and interview #2 with a smaller startup and interview #1 with a global firm. I’m a decent interviewer, but I always feel like I have to fib a bit to get the job. It’s not like huge lies — but someone may ask me if I know how to do something and I say sure and if they ask me to explain results from said thing I find some numbers that sound obtainable and throw those out there. How many leads did I generate per month? Oh, great question. What number do you want to hear that is actually something I might be able to deliver at this company, even though it’s in an entirely different market? Hmm. Even telling the truth can bite you in the ass — for at one company it might be much easier to deliver strong ROI than another. You just can’t win, but what you say at that interview, if you take the job, will haunt you forever.

And I don’t want to have to fib my way into an opportunity, or just accept the blind  delusion of some CEOs who think I’m god’s gift to this field until they’ve hired me and see my limitations. I just wonder how people who do this for a living actually get good at it. Some of the job is just mindless repetition and detail work, which I’m intuitively horrible at. But there’s a lot of strategy and execution around that strategy as well. I mean, it’s not rocket science. Why do I suck so bad at it?

For starters — the field I’m in has a zillion / infinite things you can do at any given time. This confuses the shit out of my ADHD brain. I want to do EVERYTHING! So I start a whole lot of projects with the best intention. The few that do get finished are usually pretty good. Problem is, most don’t get finished, or at least not in time. Even when I try really hard to not do this I end up in the same hole, over and over again. If I were to take a job where I was assigned tasks I’d probably be ok with that if it required some level of creativity to solve the problem at hand, but not if those tasks were detail-oriented and repetitive. I know I’ve gotten so far in my career — to a $160k salary — by just saying the right things and trying my best until the anxiety just exhausts me and I can no longer think straight and I start making one careless mistake after the next.

Some of my commenters have suggested that I move somewhere with a lower cost of living. That’s certainly an option. But I have (some) friends here. And no matter how little money I have, driving down the freeway and seeing the beautiful rolling hills at sunset with the fog rapidly dancing over them is just – worth more than anything I could pay for. There are so many reasons why I love living here. I could move, but at the least the frequent sunny days and blue skies here keeps seasonal depression largely at bay — it was just so, so bad in other places I’ve lived. My fiance hates warm weather so there aren’t many places we can go that are sunny yet not so hot. I’d like to somehow stay here. I don’t know if I can.

I guess I’ll see if I end up getting offers for any of these jobs. I’m way too over qualified for roles in other fields that I’d like to pursue, and ironically the only way to switch into a job paying less than half of what I make now is to go back to school and spend about $150k-$200k for a master’s degree. Which is also an option. Right now, I just need to relax. I’ve been getting more and more upset about this entire last year and there’s just not point to that right now. What’s done is done.  I have to just move on, and hopefully not too fast to the wrong thing, just because it’s there.



New Unemployment/Unemployed Budget

Well. Here I am. Unemployed. Since I received no severance and was not eligible for payout of any PTO (side effect of the supposed unlimited vacation perk), I’m left with my final paycheck and waiting for unemployment to (hopefully) kick in.

When you apply for unemployment they ask you a whole host of questions and I’m concerned I won’t qualify, though I should. Even if I do qualify, it’s a whopping $1800 a month (before taxes) and they make you wait a week to start claiming, so the first month is actually more like $1350 for the month. And $1350 is about how much I pay in rent. Thank goodness I’ve been somewhat smart about saving this year (I knew the job was not going to last long given how I performed with the heaping of anxiety and lack of sleep brought on by a very non-supportive work environment and a long commute I should have never signed on for in the first place.)

I thought it would be a good time to check in regarding my networth and budget. My networth goal for this year was $400k but that was a stretch to begin with (a $100k increase from 2014 including savings and interest.) Right now, counting all my assets I’m at about $350k – which isn’t bad considering the way the markets have performed this year to date. I’m sure with some better investments and less stress spending I’d be a little closer to my initial goal, but not by enough that it would really be meaningful. I have to take a moment and applaud myself for reaching $350k networth. Even though it’s not the big $500k, $350k feels sizable enough to merit a moment of self congratulations. For some reason, this amount makes me feel better about my lack of job stability due to my mental illness. While I can’t touch all that money immediately, and after taxes it would be less, if I was desperate there’s enough there to get through my own personal instances of deep depression (yeay bipolar life.) I don’t feel secure enough yet to have kids, or quite frankly, to get married (which is happening this spring anyway), but I feel like this is an accomplishment of some sort I can be secretly proud of… especially given that just 10 years ago I had about $5k to my name and was basically living paycheck to paycheck.

Here’s how the $350k breaks down:

  • $27.5k – cash
  • -$46 – credit debts
  • $153.5k – stocks (taxable)
  • $178.3k – retirement funds
  • $6.5k – 529 / grad school fund
  • $8k – approx car value

Now, my goal for the rest of the year, revised, is to end the year above $350k. This just brings me back to my older goals of saving $50k a year – which I’ve been doing for the last couple of years. I though this year given my income increase I could save a whole lot more, but you know, markets fluctuate so much, and maybe I actually bought enough stock “on sale” this year that I’ll have a really good 2016. Who knows.

The trick at this point is not significantly dipping into my cash to live between my current job and my next job… especially since I don’t know when said next job will start (or what it will be.) The $1350/$1800 a mo in unemployment is barely enough to cover standard recurring expenses, so I’ll have to dip into my savings a bit. I’m hoping that by Dec 1 I have a job so this leaves me with just 1.5 months of unemployment, which shouldn’t hurt too much. With the wedding coming up, and all the expenses for that, I really, really, really need a job – even though I admit it’s nice to have a few weeks to just stop and focus on planning this crazy event since the lack of time to do that was also stressing me out.

But I want to plan for “worst case scenerio” 3 months without a job. I’ll give myself 3 months to find something I really think I can be good at – because the last thing I want to do right now is to jump into a position where my anxiety will get to me again. I’m hoping to find something with a bit more flexible work environment – the amount of work I can get done at home in a quiet space far surpasses what I can do in some horrible open office environment filled with stress-inducing distractions. I’ve made a pact with myself that I’m not going to apply for things I know I’ll ultimately fail at given the work environment. I also am probably going to apply to grad school because I know the field I’m in now rarely meets my minimum requirements for sanity, so despite the great pay, I think I need to take a break from chasing income and now start to actually plan for sustainability. In short, I can’t be crazy mommy who gets fired from her job every year – my future kids don’t need to see that. I want them to see me in my best state – one where I actually like my job more or less. Not the me who I am now. I would never want them to see that person.

So I’m assuming I will need to spend about $2000 a month additional from my savings in order to cover everything from gas to get to job interviews to food to grad school applications to a potential trip home to the east coast to spend some quality time with family when I have the time (dad’s cancer isn’t getting better and despite that he drives me nutso whenever I see him I always think – will this be the last time?) So… say I have $5k of my savings to spend over the next 3 months… give or take. That puts me at roughly $350k at the end of the year – but I’d then be worried I couldn’t find another job. I know that I have some talent and abilities… but I just need to figure out where and how to apply them in a way where someone will pay me money to do so, and I won’t flip out after 3 months or so feeling like I’m so overwhelmed but the piles of things to do and not be able to prioritize those things or even know where to start. Yes, this is the life of a woman who has super anxiety, bipolar II and ADHD. I’m not saying those are excuses for anything – I take full responsibility for losing this job, for falling into the same pattern. But there’s a part of it that is just inherently who I am. I’m different than most people, that’s for sure. I just need to figure out where I fit.

And I’m going to be 32 in a month, which is – such an adult. My body definitely feels like I’m in my 30s — I pinched a nerve a week ago and my back and arm are still in pain. If I don’t sleep a full 8 hours a night I feel it for many days later. And don’t get me started on drinking / hangovers, oy. That’s just to say that I’m not a kid anymore. I’m a full grown adult. Looking around at my apartment I have to stop and wonder if this is what I pictured adulthood to be like. Well, I never actually envisioned myself as an adult. Maybe that’s part of the problem. But when I envisioned adulthood as a general concept, it certainly didn’t look like this — unfinished apartment, used couch that’s falling apart, bike in the corner of the living room because there’s no where else to keep it, a career that doesn’t feel right at all, getting married (ok that’s a start) to a man who also doesn’t have much of anything figured out yet either, to a long life ahead of me that I imagine will poof suddenly transform into one filled with maturity once I have my own kids (I know it doesn’t happen that way, I just like to think there’s some kind of inciting incident to finally growing up.)

Oh well. Today, I just need to focus on not dipping in too deep to my savings this year, and ultimately continuing on to my “round 1″ $500k goal. That was supposed to happen next year. It won’t. But maybe I’ll get there before I’m 40.







Over and done and on to the next

While I’ll never say I was perfect at my job, my new boss REALLY didn’t like me. I believe he had it out for me from the day he joined the company less than three months ago. People respect executives that come in and make fast changes – it gives them credibility that they know what they are doing. And, looking at the scenario outside myself, AND if I was a heartless professional (i.e. the kind one has to be to survive in the corporate world, I’m not saying this is a bad thing) I’d probably make the same move. From his perspective, I was this employee who committed to a whole bunch of stuff, and then it took longer than she expected, and things were done late, and she lived so far away she came to office at 10am when the rest of the team got in at like, 8.

What sucks is that I was actually making good progress. It was way too slow as I really was learning as I went, and I made a lot of mistakes that I’d never make again. I came in and reachitected a sales database and all the corresponding marketing workflows. I focused way too much on the operations and not enough on the actual marketing. But when everything was in place and I did turn it all on, it really started to work. I could see in the system a large number of really great people who could buy our product who were engaging with our content. It was just too little, too late. And, so, off with my head.

Even though I did get a warning about 20 day ago, the actual getting fired was a bit jarring. For one, I thought I had 30 days or maybe a few more, as my boss and I discussed both 30 days AND my staying through to the beginning of November to wrap up projects. But for whatever reason he got pissed about something I did and decided that yesterday was the day. Maybe my CEO made the call – like many CEOs I’ve worked with he has a black-or-white view of the world and while he used to adore me and my work (when he hired me and shortly thereafter) I had moved over to the dark side, getting a few nasty emails from him about a press release he hated and my asking the office manager to help with some mailings, that, apparently I was supposed to do myself. I have a suspicion that they both had it out for me — they gave me a warning on Sept 23 and said I could go peacefully into the night right then and there, but I am not a quitter, so I said let me stay and prove to you I can be better. I’m so close to having things work. I’m so close to showing you I can do this.

The problem was, I didn’t really believe that. Even with the systems all set up and emails going out, I didn’t have enough content to send, or enough support to deal with the thousands of other requests pouring in — managing a series of conferences, getting PR up and running again, dealing with random asks from other teams that I didn’t plan for, et al. And, the thing is, my boss(es) really want someone who just willing to sacrifice their entire life for the job. That’s what they do, so why shouldn’t everyone else? And, in my 20s, I was all for that kind of life. I had being bored, I like feeling part of a team and helping contribute to a common goal  - so what if it’s at 11 at night and I’m half asleep and I have to wake up at 5am to get on a plane?

Now, that’s not how it would be every single day at this job, but the mentality certainly is either you’re the type to just spend every waking moment of your life working (or at least be smart enough to provide the appearance of this) or you’re out on the street.

Well, I’m out on the street. My boss set up a 3pm meeting and someone at the company actually leaked a memo that gave me a little bit of a heads up, which I am forever grateful to them for. I spent the day clearing off my computer and starting to clean out my desk. I wasn’t 100% sure it was going to happen that day — after all, there’s an event next week and I’m the only person who was going to be able to set up the booth, so I thought. I thought wrong.

He must have been really pissed at me because … he set up a 1:1 at 3pm, then at 3 he asked me if we could meet at 4:30pm and then at 4 he comes over to my desk and – out loud in front of everyone else says – “let’s just get this done with. We only need 30 minutes.” That’s when my suspicions were confirmed.

And that was it. “We’re going to let you go,” he said. I waited for more. I waited for a list of specifics which I failed to do in the last 20 days when he had told me I at least had 30. But he basically gave me the look like “you know.” Yes, I do know, I wasn’t willing or able to dedicate the entirety of my life to the job, nor was I able to successfully be about 5 other employees that I wasn’t able to hire for the team, for various reasons. Ok, this is it, I thought… what crazy paperwork do I have to sign in order to get my severance and how little is it going to be (being as I was there a year, I thought they’d at least pay me out until the end of the month.)

But there would be no severance. Clearly they don’t think I’m a lawsuit risk. They just want me out. Last paycheck, last expense check, and good day. This guy is so irrational that he told me that I should consider coming in the next day to pack up in the morning, early, so no one else would be around to see me do it – or I could pack up then. LUCKILY I had already done most of my packing earlier in the day, you know, standard fall cleaning, nothing to see here folks – what was left was just a lot of trash and work content that I didn’t want to deal with anyway. About an hour after I left I get a text message from him saying it’s a bad idea to come in tomorrow and they’ll pack up my desk and mail me things. I love how quickly he changes his mind.

The entire situation at the company was impossible. Sure, I could have done a better job, worked harder, slept less, took a 5am train and returned home after 9. I could have lasted a bit longer. But the company itself is a mess. The product has been entirely rebuilt and that isn’t going so well. Clients are unhappy. Everyone knows the CEO is crazy. I caveat that by saying all CEOs are crazy and that on its own isn’t a ding in my book. Just look at Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. The problem is that CEOs think they HAVE to be like that in order to ensure the success of their company, but not all have such inherent intuitive genius. Some are just swayed easily by whatever they hear from someone else, and suddenly the world will end if that particular issue isn’t resolved (while in reality the rest of the world is burning around them, but they have to hyper focus on this one issue to make them feel like they have control of the entire situation, which, they don’t.)

Maybe the company will get purchased by someone and there will be some kind of a successful exit, but it’s like one of those many startups out there dying a slow and painful death. I don’t envy the CEOs of these companies — they come in, usually after the founder has given up or has been pushed out by the board, and they’re handed this pile of shit to try to refurbish. These CEOs are the type that are in it primarily for the money (founding CEOs sometimes actually care about the product and maybe even changing the world.) Second and third CEOs just want to get rich, or more rich. I don’t fault them for that — trying to turn around a failing startup is not an easy task. And there are still a number of people employed by the company, so this CEO is day in and day out fighting for not only his shot at wealth, but also their livelihood. It can be an admirable position.

The problem is more often then not, the new CEO isn’t able to recover. It’s kind of like handing a kid a broken toy and seeing if they can fix it or have fun with it. Maybe they’ll turn this broken toy into something amazing (maybe even something better than it was meant to be) – but – really, you’re probably going to end up with a very frustrated kid having a temper tantrum and throwing the broken toy across the room once he realizes it’s not at all salvageable.

That said, I did respect the CEO of this company because he was handed a broken toy and sold said toy to some pretty big, well-repected toy buyers, so to speak. He works his ass off and for that I can’t not respect him. And, despite his having some pretty unrealistic expectations when it comes to the performance of the team, I can’t fault him for pushing everyone really hard. His management strategy is push people as hard as he can until they break. Make the ones who are working hard feel really special (i.e. CEO is paying attention to you and “invested” in your success!) Then people get super burnt out and either they leave on their own accord or, in the rare case that someone stays because they refuse to quit or move on, he gets someone else to fire them (i.e. new boss, three months later, hands me the ax.)

Well, here I am, unemployed – yet again – but I feel ok this time around. I’m actually in a much better place now than I was a year ago because I learned A LOT over the last year. I have been talking to a few companies while I was still employed so I want to move quickly on those opportunities. I also feel like I need a break. I know it has been just a year since I was last unemployed and it’s embarrassing that I’m this tired and burnt out right now,  but I’m this tired and burnt out right now. I threw out my back/neck/shoulder/something last week and even though I sleep at least 7 hours a night I’m always about ready to fall asleep. I can use a week or two to recharge and hopefully will be ready to head into the next thing.

What I don’t know is what that next thing should be. It’s one thing to be recruited for how great I look on paper, it’s another to be able to actually execute and be successful. I don’t want to jump into yet another situation where someone has convinced themselves I’m so great when in reality I’m, well, not quite all that and a bag of chips. Or maybe now that I’ve had some more experience I can be better. I did learn a lot. I see the bigger picture more clearly. I understand the framework of what needs to get done to be successful. But if, at the end of the day, this entire field isn’t right for me, and I’m not right for it, then should I really try to stay in it just because it’s the only place I can get hired? I can take some time off… take classes… figure out who I am and what I’m good at…

I’m still planning to take the GRE soon and I still have my grad school applications in process. Maybe that’s the right way to go. I feel like I need a change. Maybe it’s just a change of company. Maybe it’s a complete 180. In any case, I guess I am relieved right now that I am no longer struggling to promote the wonders of a broken toy that may not be at all fixable.