March 2015 net worth update

Stealing this chart and breakdown from Leigh’s Financial Journey, because I adore how she tracks her networth (and man she’s doing amazing worth saving 80% of her income per month! Inspiring!)

Annual Networth Progress (Goal $400k)

31-Dec-2014 28-Feb-2015 31-Mar-2015 MoM YTD
cash -$2918 $10,646 $10,844 +$198 $13,762
investment (taxable) $144,021 $150,883 $150,096 -$787 +$6075
IRA/401k/hsa/529 $158,971 $166,019 $165,032 -$987 +$7048
net worth $299,894 $327,548 $325,972 -$1576 +$26,078
$ until FI ($2M) $1.7M  $1.67M $1.67M

March didn’t look that great on paper, but really the market was just doing really well in February so a lot of those gains pulled back a bit. I haven’t been very heavily investing in the first quarter of the year as I’ve bene saving an emergency fund in case I lose this job. I’m expecting to be in the job until at least June 30 and likely until Oct/Nov, but that could easily change and be sooner. I need to be prepared.

Overall the year is going quite well. I’m still on track (though I had been hoping to be ahead of target since Feb concluded at my quarterly savings goal. My focus now is really on the next three months – saving as much as possible. If it turns out I get to the end of June and I’ve saved $50k, I can still feel good about that as typically my annual savings/interest goal is $50k. This is just the first year I’m trying to save $100k for the year — which is still somewhat do-able if I were to stay in the job until Dec 31. Honestly, the best thing would be to stay until February so I can max out next year’s 401k, and then figure out next steps. But that’s a long time from now and anything can happen.

I really want to see April end with $10k increase in my account, or $335k. This is possible if the stock market goes up since I’m also putting 80% of my paycheck in April into my 401k (I haven’t put anything into my 401k yet this year.) Furthermore, I just did my taxes and am actually getting $1k back this year. My stretch goal for April is getting to $340k, leaving just $60k for the remainder of the year to save – so this is a very important month. Wish me luck! :)

Do You Really Want Kids? The Case for Being Childfree

The term “childfree” is all the rage these days. A new book “Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed – Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids” is getting its spin in the spotlight. Not surprisingly, everyone – and their mother – had an opinion on whether or not any woman should become a mother. If you don’t have kids, as the book’s name suggests, you are called various derogatory terms, as if somehow the choice not to bring another human being into the already overpopulated, resource-strained world is the most selfish thing a person can do. I for one acknowledge that the choice to be childfree is anything but.

That said, I do want children. I don’t think there is a logical reason why beyond biology; I’m absolutely terrified of my ability to be a good mother – judging by my management skills and hatred of confrontation and overall disorganization and poor time management ability, one could easily make the case why I should not be a mother. I’m 31.5 and it would be just as easy to spend the next eight-and-a-half years of my life doing what I’m doing now, until it’s too late, at least naturally, to have a kid or a litter. I could just say, you know what, I don’t want kids, and I’m not going to have any (my parents are expecting me to say this any day, especially since I’ve been in a relationship for nine years and have not yet so much as gotten engaged.)

I don’t know if there’s every a good reason to have kids or to not have kids. If you live a non-religious life, as I do, there’s no god from above throwing shade at me and my partner for not popping out the maximum number of new psyches one body can produce. There are people out there who love kids and people out there who loathe kids in equal parts, and some who love kids never have them by choice or by default and some who hate them have a gaggle to their own dismay. Some who love kids have them and then secretly hate them, and some who secretly hate them, have them, and realize that the meaning of life is seeing the world through their child’s eyes.

Perhaps if I had some sort of outstanding career where I was happy jet-setting around the world, creating art or performing on broadway or directing films or writing novels which leave no time to be distracted by little brats screaming bloody murder in the background, I’d think that a childfree life would be the way to go. But I’ve gotten to this strange point of limbo in life. At 31, with nearly $350k in savings (on paper, anyway), and a career that, while sucking up the majority of my waking life, inspires me less than a calculus class, I know that I am fortunate to have options that few have, but I there is something horrifyingly missing from my life today. It isn’t a big fancy house or even a big fancy job. It’s family.

Family, of course, can mean many things. I grew up with a large extended family – myself being the oldest cousin – with just one sister and two parents, but well over 15 attendees to any holiday family gathering, my childhood was filled with the dramatics of a family mixed with Tri-State Jews, Italians, and Cubans, which was lively to say the least. Of course as a child I never really appreciated this, it was just the way life was. It was yet another holiday, another family event to go to, and as I transformed from the only child of the whole family, cute and the center of attention, to the oldest cousin who was meant to behave and help entertain the young ones or be bragged about relentlessly by her narcissistic parents who would overstate her accomplishments, I didn’t have what one would call a healthy relationship with that family. Still, it was family – a family I’m sorely lacking today.

Even though I doubt my maternal instincts and abilities, I also feel inspired to build a strong, solid family filled with love and care. One where perfection is not the expectation and flaws are equally rewarded and cherished. My boyfriend and likely future husband is such a quiet, calm, introverted individual, I fear our family will be so small, mellow, and quiet without the organic melding of a localized large extended family. I’ve considered moving back to the east coast just to be near family — my parents are having a portion of our giant clan over for seder tonight, and I will yet again miss it — but I don’t know if that would really help or hurt my desire to set up a healthy family dynamic sans the consistent crazy of my own parents.

When I think about my life, you know, the next year or ten years or thirty or eighty of it, I no longer have this crazy desire to be the next Idina Menzel or Ellen Degeneres. All my life I thought what I wanted was fame, to just be someone who people knew and loved and would be willing to talk to, someone who wasn’t this oddball in the corner hoping for her shot to be not only accepted by lauded for her esteemed personality and thoughts. I thought that was core to who I am, something that would never change. I dedicated my early 20s to auditioning for local productions, sacrificing potential jobs which conflicted with evenings off for rehearsal, not because I thought I’d get the lead or because I really believed I had the talent to ever succeed in the performing arts, but because the drive was there. It was gnawing, visceral, relentless and the only iota of a self-propelled intention I knew to be true. Even that, the one thing I thought I knew about myself, it seems, is fleeting.

I wouldn’t mind being known for doing something great – writing a best selling novel or, heck, one day the grande reveal of this blog once it becomes more than just a never-ending self-absorbed tale of depression, anxiety and poor career choices (I’m surprised anyone actually reads this thing, but if you are reading, hello) – but what I really want to do, what I really want more than anything in the world, is to be able to go to the park with my kids and watch them run around and laugh and fall down and get up all over again. I want to have teenagers who I can relate to deeply due to my extended, perhaps pervasive adolescence, and help them grow into their own. I want to raise children who learn that they can do anything they want, that it doesn’t have to be something worthy of bragging about. That their destiny is their own. You know, I’ll never be a great employee. I’m not built to be an award-winning corporate, execution-oriented, results-driven robot. I think I might be built to be a mother. Well, I guess you can say, of course I am.

Surrounded by a Smoke Cloud of Mainstream Bliss

What happens when I miss the 7:30 train by a second is I get stuck in the city until the next train at 8:40, at which time I begin an hour-and-fifteen or so minute ride to my stop and another 20 minute walk home. I usually miss the train by ten or more minutes, but arriving when the door is closing just plain sucks. In fact, if I didn’t have to tag my pass on to the train, I may have made it – the man at the door was going to let me through, but then I had to run back to tag my pass.

The good news is it’s quite beautiful outside. I’m sitting outside by AT&T park, waiting for the next train home. Apparently it’s a pre-game for the Giants against the Oakland A’s, so the atmosphere around here is quite festive. I Feel rather out of place in my work close all pissy about missing my train when there are hoards of happy folks headed to the game. When I see people who are that happy, I question when the last time I’ve actually been happy – in that sort of useful, blissful way. Sure, I’m happy with my boyfriend – happy in a safe and calm sort of way. But I haven’t really had fun in a while. I don’t remember the last time was when I had fun. Maybe my birthday last year but even then there was drama which kind of put a damper on the mood. You know, I just miss having fun.

My typical weekday amounts to crawling out of bed at 6am, reading through emails until I finally get up the motivation to hop in the shower, run out the door to catch the train – and somehow it’s already after eight at this point, sometimes nine – I’ve forgotten to eat breakfast but I manage to get a train for an hour or so to the city and I do more work as the scenery from the last 10 years of my life passes before my eyes out the window. I get into the city, walk the 30 minutes or so to the office, or if I’m lazy I take a bus which takes pretty much just as long. Then I get to the office, rather late, and try to focus on getting all the millions of things done that I have to get done and feel completely incapable of handling. When I can’t handle the stress anymore I find some food to stuff my face with in the kitchen. I figure it can’t be that bad since I haven’t eaten breakfast or lunch.

Sometimes… I take a walk outside in the afternoon with a colleague, which is a nice break. Then the time flies by, I stuff my face with more random food, and all the sudden the day is over before it feels like it even began. I head back to the train… 30 minutes walking or by car or bus, and hope to make the one I want to take, but rarely do. I sit around and wait for the next train. Eventually it comes – it takes a good hour-and-a-half to get home. I’m home, usually, by 10. I jump in bed ready to pass out and force my boyfriend to watch one episode of some television show with me on the computer which I normally fall asleep during. I wake up the next day to do it all over again.

Oh woe is me, right? I mean – I’m getting paid well for this life, this is the life I chose. It’s not slave labor. But I’m tired. I’m getting older and six months of this has taken a toll on me. I could move closer to work, but I’m not sure how much that would help. It’s not just the commute. It’s the career. It’s the chemistry of chemicals firing off in my brain. It’s the loss of whatever existed of a carefree childhood. When I see people so happy heading to a baseball came I wish I could be that happy about anything. I wish I remembered what pure happiness felt like. I wonder if I’ll ever feel it again.

The Cost of Preparing to Actually Do Something

After a long debate (with myself) I’ve punted my short-lived plans to become a therapist in lieu of returning to my consistently-returning plans/desire to be a UX designer and product manager. While graduate school is not required for such a career change, I’m the type of person who likes to have formal training from a well-regarded institution in order to properly credential myself for the future – and to learn best practices, theories, and generally have an opportunity to try things out in a supportive environment. Furthermore, given my undergraduate and professional background, a degree from a well-regarded school would be extremely helpful in making a switch and moving up quicker once I do.

With a 3.2 GPA and a transcript that looks like a schizophrenic went to school (I believe I graduated with 320 quarter credits were my 3.2 is definitely what you would call an “average” of quite a range of grades (let’s just say my first two years were rough and I randomly did well in certain academic electives), I need a killer GRE score to get into any of the programs that would be worth attending. One of the great things about the GRE today is that you can also use the score to apply to MBA programs. I don’t plan to do that off the bat – my ideal scenario would be become an interaction designer for a large company that would help support an executive MBA education, which I would then use said GRE score to get into if I wanted more formal business training at some point.

The plan really makes sense. I’m not sure exactly which school I’d go to, but I do have a list of about 10 with 5 top choices. I’m a bit worried that somehow I’ve gotten so old that I will be the oldest person in any of these programs (probably) as looking at their photos of “current students” makes me wonder if they are accepting middle schoolers. Regardless, I must remind myself that graduate education has nothing to do with age, it’s all what you make of it and everyone brings different life experiences.

For me, I’m getting excited about the potential of this really happening. It’s going to be a nutty next five years of my life, that’s for sure. Just playing it out here — if I apply this fall, that means I would be accepted to a program for fall 2016. I plan to be getting married in spring or fall 2016, and ideally getting pregnant shortly thereafter – which means I’d both be pregnant and have my first child while in graduate school. I’m not at all sure if this makes any sense, but at least beyond the biological requirements, I know my man would be very helpful in taking care of the kid while I do things like study and attend class.

The thought of both — being back in school AND having a kid — seem rather surreal and completely unachievable. Well, I’m taking things one step at a time. No matter what, my first step is getting a great score on the GRE. This is going to require a lot of studying. For the record, I’ve never actually studied for anything in my life. Between ADHD and anxiety I just tend to take tests and use logic to solve the questions. Alas, I’ve never really worked up to my potential. The reality is in order to do well on these types of tests, unless you’re a flat-out Einstein, you have to study. In high school I managed a 1230 SAT ( I believe it was 610v/620q) out of 1600… which at the time I thought was astoundingly good for a person who didn’t study at all for the test and didn’t really have any idea how she’d score.

The GRE is a whole different story though. To make it worth it, I want to aim for a 170. I’m not sure what score I’d be satisfied with, but that doesn’t matter right now. I need to aim for perfection and then deal with whatever I get. I did take the GRE once with no real prep the year after I graduated college and it was a disaster. I believe I scored a 520 out of 800 or something. It was pretty pathetic. All the math I kind of knew when I was in high school had poof disappeared from my mind. And, despite it being impossible to be a voracious writer I’m not a voracious reader, and I tend to eat my words as I write them, so my voraciousness is reserved for expunging thoughts versus consuming them — in other words, I voraciously suck at vocab. Surprise.

I’ve heard the new GRE is less of a vocabulary quiz and more focused on reasoning – which is good. I’ve always been fairly strong on the logic/reasoning side of things. That’s how I got through school in the first place. Use logic first and if that doesn’t work then just be creative. Well, that won’t fly in graduate school, but I do now value my intuitive ability to solve questions when logic is involved. I guess I get that logic mind from my math-science brain father, and the creative mind from my former-designer mom.

So now I’m wondering – how much money do I blow on GRE prep before I even take the test? On one hand, doing well on the test is the most important part of applying to graduate school. I know I need a killer GRE score to bypass my crazy educational background. And I’m fully aware that plenty of people (who have the money) spend thousands of dollars on tutors and such for test preparation (even for the SAT.) Since I live in an area with a high cost of living, it’s not unreasonable to expect to pay anywhere from $1000-$4000 for a prep program, depending on whether it’s a standard group program or personalized 1on1 tutoring. I’m sure there are people who pay even more. That doesn’t even count all the other services available for application coaching, which I plan to skip – it would be worth it if I was dying to go to a top MBA program but I think my story will speak for itself once I can prove I’m capable of handling academia. Oy.

But thinking about grad school, and what that means for my career, is definite the silver lining on my life right now. I know things will never be perfect, but I am so thrilled about spending my life designing products and services for people to use. There’s many different routes my career and even graduate education can go – there are programs dedicated to everything from design for learning technologies to designing interaction with robots and smart devices. I get all giddy excited imaging a life where I wake up every day getting to think about the interaction design of such products. Who knows where my life will lead, but I can smile at the thought of not spending the rest 35+ years of my life in marketing, and instead in a life where I focus on building great products.

Oh, but did I mention that I’m absolutely horrified about what this all means for my networth growth? HORRIFIED, I tell you. But I know I’m not the only one who has been through this, and I’ll be fine. It’s just going to make me cringe to see my networth go down for a few years before it can go up again. But at this rate in my current field I’m headed towards a mental institution which won’t be cheap either. Got to look on the bright side.

 

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.