Tag Archives: culture

What is the American Dream?

The American Dream for my parents was to be able to achieve a lifestyle for their family and children better than the ones they grew up in, in the lower middle class. And they both achieved that dream — with upward mobility and college education they were able to obtain a comfortable upper middle class life with my mother staying at home to take care of the kids – my father worked long hours during the week as a consultant and traveled to maintain that lifestyle but he was still home on the weekends and, given there was no Internet, when he was home he was focused on the family. We ate dinner together. He tried to help me with my homework. Our family had plenty of issues, but on paper, and in front of our suburban house sitting on 3/4 acre, we were the American Dream realized.

On the train earlier today my mind drifted to the concept of the American Dream today. My Dream is to be able to afford a house, have a family, not work 10 hour days, have time to actually enjoy life, but still have a fulfilling career. I’m asking for too much because that’s not a realistic dream. To be successful at my current job I need to work 10+ hour days and often on the weekends, and forget about vacation. I’m not complaining, that’s just the reality of the situation. This sort of lifestyle is challenging but do-able without kids, I just can’t imagine being able to maintain this if I am to have a family in a few years. And then what?

I like working. I know I go crazy trying to be perfect at it and struggle to prioritize tasks and get the meaningful stuff done, but ultimately I’d prefer to work than not to work. And, if I’m going to work a job for income beyond paying the basic bills, I want to work a job that is interesting, challenging, and offers the opportunity to learn on a regular basis. However, that seems to be synonymous with working long hours and getting home after 8pm, passing out an hour or so later, and waking up at the crack of dawn to do it all over again.

First world problems, I know. I should be so thankful that I have such a great job – and I am. I’m not even talking about “today,” more so – where this is getting me to in the next 10… 20 years of my life. From 30 to 50, who will I be? Will the next 20 years blur before my eyes as every second of my life is dedicated to work? That’s not a bad thing, per se, but it’s just the reality of the American Dream. Work hard and you can have it all, yes, have it all, except the time to enjoy it all. If you’re lucky you’ll have saved up enough to have some sort of reasonable couple of years of retirement before your body gives up on you.

Is the new American Dream five or ten good years of retirement in between working yourself ragged and being stuck in a nursing home? I’m sure that’s not how everyone looks at things. I just think I’ve actually advanced into a role today where I’m now seeing what it’s like to be a senior leader – and all of the responsibility that really goes into that – and the fact that you’re expected to be available 24/7 – and again, I think that’s ok now, but how would I do that when I’m a mother? I’m exhausted now and I have no other responsibilities. So how do people actually do this?

Maybe it’s just the lifestyle of working for a small company that I’d find challenging for the long term… or maybe it’s all executive roles… if you’re not fighting fires to save customers or get our the latest release you’re out mingling and networking. I never thought I’d have that kind of life… then again, I never thought I’d be in any sort of “business” to begin with. Business was for the boring people who followed the rules. But now, I’m just one of those boring people who attempts to follow the rules… and I want to somehow picture what my life will be for the next 20 years and prepare myself for this while focusing on helping my company win today, and doing whatever it takes.

But I’m scared… because I don’t want this to be my entire 30s and 40s. And either I’m going to get really good at it so I’ll never be able to step down from the opportunities on the table / or I’m not, and, well, it’s even scarier to think that I still have to figure out what I am actually good at… and know that it might be too late to pivot so drastically. For now, I’m focused on winning. But I wish I understood what my American Dream is.

A Tale of Two Bosses: Why Culture Matters

When I started my last job, I was thrilled about the opportunity. The product itself was something I could see myself using. The team was incredibly smart, filled with the type of people that you knew would be successful because they’re already been at least somewhat successful. And beyond that, they were an environment of respect and even those at the top kept their egos in check. So why didn’t it work out?

In my interview for that job my soon-to-be boss asked me a really interesting question — there are two type of people — are you a builder or a fixer? I immediately jumped, as a serial startuper, to say I’m a builder. How could I not be? I landed the job in convincing him that was true.

In that environment I was surrounded by highly structured, very organized individuals, mostly of Indian decent, who were very kind, intelligent, and did I mention highly-structured thinkers and doers? I still have great appreciation of that team and can see them being a huge success. However, my mind didn’t fit in. Even a personality type test showed that we weren’t a fit. While they tried to explain that difference was appreciated, in the end it was my difference that had me undone. In a culture so structured and organized my more free-flowing style stood out like a sore thumb and didn’t fit. When I was expected to lead and build I felt lost and overwhelmed in a culture that rewarded left-brain thinking and had little respect for creativity or bigger picture thinking. I did a lot of things wrong that quickly led to my parting, but ultimately the culture fit just wasn’t there. I think both my boss and I at the time looked at each other a bit like aliens, with that gaze of respect and bewilderment. I realized in order to be successful culture fit, especially in a startup, goes a long way.

My new company is much more like the one I came from before my last one – built by creative, passionate people with a fairly good mix of right and left-brained individuals. But what’s more interesting is the fact that for many of the same reasons my boss at my last gig disliked me is the reason I’m doing well in this environment. With a CEO who is more visionary and creative, he isn’t off-put by my lack of structure (although, of course, I still have to deliver!) In fact, I can’t see someone who would perform well in the other environment being able to handle the style of a company where meetings frequently start late, plans change rapidly, and everyone is moving at a million miles per minute, sometimes all in different directions. I’ve realized what I do best is help environments like this filled with brilliant yet more unstructured people come together and see eye to eye. I’m a fixer after all.

That’s not to say it’s been easy. I’m still feeling overwhelmed but in a very different way. At the moment my boss sees me as someone who can be very successful and thus is investing his time to help me learn how to be a leader, not just expecting me to magically be one out of the box. I know to him this helps motivate me to be my best and the best for the company, so it’s a win-win all around. I don’t expect this from every boss in the future, but at this point in my career it is so vital to have a coach help me understand the wonky transition from individual contributor to executive/leader (especially when you’re expected to play the role of both.)

I think as a woman who was raised to not take risks, to take orders, to do as I’m told, to play it safe, it’s very hard for me to break out of this mindset. I don’t think it’s genetic, but I do have a nurturing, even, I guess you could say, mothering mindset about me. I see problems and I like to fix them. I like to be in an environment that appreciates that it needs a mother-like figure to come in and give it guidance. I don’t know if that’s a sexist thing to say, and I know some women leaders who aren’t like this at all, but for me – I like to go where what I provide beyond my deliverables is of value.

Today, months after failing at a job where I clearly wasn’t a fit for being too unstructured – told I should clearly not work for small companies anymore, I sit bringing value to the leadership team of another small company where I’m the one in a large part helping to establish structure (along with a few other awesome new hires who are more used to companies with certain types of more standard process.) The environment fuels me to be my best. I realize now I never should have taken my last short-lived position because it clearly wasn’t a fit from the beginning. This, on the other hand, is an entirely different ball game. And hopefully, this time around, I can become a champ for years to come.

 

 

Gone Girl: The Modern Marriage Commentary

The stories within a story of my life are endless. Take, for instance, my mother’s decision for us — my father, her, and myself — to go see the movie “Gone Girl” at the movie theatre for our family night activity together. I haven’t been paying much attention to pop culture lately so I didn’t know what the movie was about other than a wife’s disappearance. My mother had read the book so she had “a clue.”

If you plan to see the movie and/or read the book, spoilers ahead, fair warning. So the plot pretty much starts out with a woman and a man who supposedly fall in love at a time in their life when they’re young, self-entitled, horny, and everything is going right for them. But then the shit of life hits the fan – parents get sick, recessions crumble the economy, people lose their jobs, trust funds are tapped into – and the two lovebirds realize that they aren’t in a relationship with the person they wanted to be in the first place. The prenup just adds to the jealousy and drama once the perfect relationship falls apart. Because, as I took it, all of us are faking who we are when we’re dating and all of us say we’re not going to end up like those horrible married couples that nag and bicker at each other and have sex like route routine vs with passion and many of us do. Then one cheats with something newer and younger and more like the fantasy that they originally married, the other feels hurt, angry, and wants vengeance. For a moment they may even want the other partner to greatly suffer for the rest of their lives.. And there you have the plot behind Gone Girl, or at least the rational for it.

Well, going to see this movie with my parents, for those of you who follow my blog and understand my relationship with my parents and their relationship with each other, is a bit of a farcical plot line to begin with. Add to that attending the movie in one of those  newer “luxury” cinemas with the comfort seating and recalling chairs, and both my mother and father for large chunks of the movie falling asleep and beginning to snore quite loudly, and their golden commentary on the film afterwards, I couldn’t help but find myself cackling inside.

After the film was over my dad could in no way shape or form hide his disgust at the film. With my father there are no opinions that matter but his own. This time around I mostly agreed with him (it was a dumb plot line in terms of what actually happened and the constant elevator music to, I think, add a state of creepy and coldness to the film, was annoying as fuck, though I appreciated the social commentary.) Yet when my father has an opinion, he takes it personally. He even gets a bit angry or at the least annoyed – like, how dare anyone create a movie that’s so stupid that other people like that he has to see.

I must admit my favorite review from him of the evening was his frustration with the detective being female, as, and I quote, “that’s just not realistic.” He apparently has been annoyed for years with all the leading female detective characters souring the reality of his favorite shows like Law and Order. This conversation, of course, led into my mother noting that it is like how there are too many gay people on television these days – not that she has a problem with gay people – but there “just aren’t that many gay people” and that too isn’t realistic. I asked her to note a specific show where a gay person was written into it where it didn’t make sense (I’m waiting for her to tell me about some show in Rural Georgia where there’s a flamboyantly gay person who never gets threatened or shot, and perhaps that I could believe as unrealistic) but then she goes on to tell me she doesn’t watch a lot of TV these days so she can’t name a specific case, this is just in general.

Oh, my parents. At some point you just have to accept the crazy that is. My favorite part of last night was after the movie when we went to a cafe for dinner. Following our crepes my father ordered a pecan tarte. I asked if I could have a bite and he said ok. I noticed that there weren’t actually many pecans on top and tried unsuccessfully to secure one with the tiny piece I took off the site of the tarte. My mother then asked my father if she could have a taste. “Sure,” he said, as if it was rude of her to assume he might say no (but heaven forbid she just take it without asking, that would start a shit show.) My mother, knowing that any cut she takes will be horrible in the eyes of my father, asks him to cut her a piece. He, again in some sort of offended manner says “you cut your own piece.” She noted out loud that if she did he would say “she took too much.” He continued that she can cut her own piece and he wouldn’t get upset.

Ha.

She then initially takes a tiny bit of the tarte only to cut further into it about half way to get a piece with one of the few pecans on it. It does look like she took half the tart but I could see clearly that she just wanted to get the pecan. My father, of course, throws his hourly temper tantrum by saying something along the lines of “what the hell” and grabbing back the piece she cut with the pecan on it and leaving her with the original tiny piece she had cut. He then, as a peace offering, and to retain his belief that he’s a rational person, took a tiny pecan and put it on top of her tiny piece of the tart.

In reference to the film, I can’t imagine how my parents ever were the type of people who were young and in love. Was my mother just so beautiful and youthful when they met (she was 17 so maybe) that my father looked past her lack of ability to empathize with others? Was my father so stable and successful that by the time they got married my mother just looked past the fact that he smacked her glasses off her face on their honeymoon and broke them? I don’t know how these two were ever in love. Like the characters in the film they’re extremely self-absorbed people who instead of working together on communicating just make up their own stories, live their own lives. My dad was always opposed to a divorce — because it “hurts the kids” — while my mother was to scared to leave as she didn’t want to have to “work” another day in her life.

So here we are. Neither of them tried to frame the other for murder, though I wouldn’t be absolutely surprised if one day the result of my father’s explosive anger seriously injures my nagging mother. I’m surprised it hasn’t so far. Oh, there have been bruises and other pains, but nothing deadly. They seem to work together some how in their home of narcissism. One fight after the other after the other. It really is not pleasant to be here. I come back to spend time with family because logically I think that is what I should do. With my father dying and my mother getting older I don’t want to regret not spending the time with them – and I enjoy to some extent being in my childhood home for the few years left when it’s still in our family name. The rest of the visits are usually painful if not viewed as a sitcom and watched with an internal monologue of canned laughter.

I do worry about my own relationship and marriage – if I am to get married – and how that will play out in life. It’s easy to say that you won’t be like that, not a spiteful, angry couple, but as Gone Girl points out maybe we all turn into that a little bit. We’re so caught up in ourselves that we forget to care for the other. When times are good and there’s money and there’s security we can get through it, but then when the hard parts of life strike things start to crumble. I don’t want to be that way with my partner. I already hear the nagging going on in my head, we have our arguments, our moments of tension. I try to remind myself the value of the relationship is in the love itself, in the comfort, the partnership, the security. I can’t imagine a person in the world who could be a better fit for me and I’m pretty sure he feels the same way about me. As long as I focus on building the financial life that I want, and to save the money now versus later, to get to a point where with the exception of a major financial meltdown in the markets, I don’t have to worry about his career.

That’s why I’m so neurotic and crazy about my saving. I don’t want to ever rely on anyone else to support my happiness or security. It’s the moment we rely on someone else to do this when love cannot be the center of a relationship, it’s money – and when money is the center of the relationship that relationship will undoubtedly fall apart.

 

 

 

 

 

The Jewish-American Quarter Life Crisis

The oh-so lovable Asian-Jew duo, Amy Chua and her sidekick husband Jed Rubenfield, are at it again. This time, they are on a mission to motivate the next generation of great Americans. How? Tiger Parent our country back to a golden empire. Make sure that as a culture and individuals we obtain this ever-important trifecta of highly-depressing traits: a superiority complex, an inferiority complex, and, last but not least, impulse control.

The superior inferior, impulsefully-controlled pairing believe these are the elements of building a culture that is, well, superior. Their argument stems from research about different cultural groups that have been more successful financially and fame-wise than others. To some, this is the new racism, not much different than the old. However, there is some merit to the argument, which at least removes genetics from the equation (ala my father’s favorite explanation of racial superiority borrowed from The Bell Curve.)

Continue reading

America’s Most Stressed Generation

In today’s latest bit of depressing sociological discovery by The New York Times, reporter Catherine Rampell highlights what personal finance bloggers have been saying for years – college degrees are the high school diploma of years ago, but the cost for the degree isn’t fairly matched with the proper career and salary.

The article features a law firm in Atlanta that has a policy to only hire employees with college degrees, even for the $10 per hour “runner” job that really shouldn’t require a college education to perform. Due to diploma inflation and weak job markets, it’s easy to make the cut off for consideration in any role a degree. The firm agrees the education isn’t really necessary for the positions, but the social life gained in college to joke about school sports teams is. How sad.

In 2005, when I graduated college, the job market was better than it was today. I still had a very hard time finding a job, but refused to settle for an administrative position which took the four years of schooling I had just completed and rendered them useless. Luckily, I had the fortune of changing jobs frequently early in my career and moving up with each transition. These poor college grads working at this law firm are loyal to a fault, and are excited for small raises being promoted from one position that shouldn’t require a college degree to another. These are the same people who need to go back to school to get an MBA or professional masters degree in order to make any sort of reasonable living. The bachelors degree just gets them a very basic job. Continue reading

The Extreme US Young vs. Old Wealth Gap

Here is some new information I will be sharing with my GOP-fire-breathing dad this Thanksgiving. The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday.

While people typically accumulate assets as they age, this wealth gap is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation. The 47-to-1 wealth gap between old and young is believed by demographers to be the highest ever, even predating government records (see the full article here).

The good news is, for older folks, the median net worth of households headed by someone 65 or older was $170,494. That is 42 percent more than in 1984, when the Census Bureau first began measuring wealth broken down by age. The median net worth for the younger-age households was $3,662, down by 68 percent from a quarter-century ago, according to the analysis by the Pew Research Center.

But for Millenials, Generation Y’ers, things are not looking so good. Older Americans are staying in jobs longer, while young adults now face the highest unemployment since World War II. As a result, the median income of older-age households since 1967 has grown at four times the rate of those headed by the under-35 age group.

Yes, I’m an outlier in this country with my six-figure salary at 28, but I recognize that the majority of people my age are not being paid a fair rate to keep up with the pace of inflation. Still — I can’t afford a house where I live on my six-figure salary (again 1br condos go for $500k here). According to Pew, housing has been the main driver of these divergent wealth trends. Rising home equity has been the linchpin of the higher wealth of older households in 2009 compared with their counterparts in 1984. Declining home equity has been one factor in the lower wealth held by young households in 2009 compared with their counterparts in 1984.

These age-based divergences of households widened substantially with the housing market collapse of 2006, the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the ensuing jobless recovery. But they all began appearing decades earlier, suggesting they are as much linked to long-term demographic and social changes as they are to the sour economy of recent years.

Another trend of “non wealth accumulation” I’m part of — for the young, these long-term changes include delayed entry into the labor market and delays in marriage—two markers of adulthood traditionally linked to income growth and wealth accumulation. I didn’t get too much of a delayed start into the job market, and made up for lost time, but with the current state of the economy it’s even harder to get one’s foot in the door. I don’t envy my sister who will be graduating college next year.

The Gluttony of Choice: Why Options Make Us Depressed and Fat

As much as I love that we live in a free society with an extensive selection of options at any given moment regarding what we eat, wear, drive, etc, etc, I’ve forced myself to step outside of materialism for a few moments every now and again, to discover the square root of unhappiness is often the sheer quantity of choices available everyday.

Because we live in a capitalist society, choices available are often what we want, not what we need. I look no further than my experience today at The Cheesecake Factory as a metaphor for all of the “choice gluttony” we face in modern society. The Cheesecake Factory menu is ridiculous. I love the place. It has so many options of meals to eat, including appetizers, entrees, drinks, and of course, cheesecakes and desserts. Continue reading

The Accidental Breadwinner: Some Women Have Their $hit Together

Thanks to The World of Wealth for pointing me to this fascinating NY Times article called The Accidental Breadwinner.”

Writer Karen Karbo details her three marriages, her long-ago dream to be taken care of by her breadwinner husband, and the reality of her making most of the dough in each of her marriages. She writes how a friend, whose husband made enough money to give her time off for a few years to “figure out her life” ended up with a cheating husband, stuck in a marriage in fear of now having enough money to live the life she’s become accustomed to.

Karbo poses the question, “Is it better for the longevity of a marriage if one party (usually the woman) feels financially trapped?”

Well, yes. Marriage, just like any other business relationship, tends to survive longer the more complicated it is to get out of. But that isn’t the kind of marriage I want to be in. Does it really take three marriages to get it right? Karbo sounds like she’s found happiness now, with split incomes and an unromantic agreement on who pays for what (including who pays for who’s kids.)

As I’ve written before, I’m worried about my current relationship because I’m the half of the duo motivated by money. That means my dreams of being the woman who works part time and takes care of the kids while my hubby brings home the bacon are all but dashed. Those dreams aren’t real anyway, but they certainly are, in the back of my mind, what I expected. That’s what happened to my mom. She went to school for fashion design and worked in the industry for 10 years, only to quit when I was born and become a housewife. And she’s always been afraid to leave my father because, like Karbo’s friend, she doesn’t want to also leave the life she’s grown accustomed to. The money she’s used to spending. Even if she did get a job, she’d likely be earning minimum wage. At 50 something years old, how many raises can one expect before retirement age approaches?

I refuse to get stuck in a marriage that’s destined for a situation like that. I’d rather be the breadwinner, accidental or predetermined. Still, my dream is a marriage where both parties bring in a sizable amount of income. My aunt and uncle are prime examples of that type of couple. The husband owns a one-man marketing firm, stays home, takes care of the kids, and still takes in six figures. The wife works as a marketing exec for a magazine, and also takes in six figures. Together, they own a nice house in a really nice neighborhood. That’s the kind of life I dream of. I can only hope that Mr. Sweetheart will realize that asking for raises is an expected and acceptable part of being in the workforce.

Millionaires, Boobs, Big Houses, and Reality TV

Forget the talent portion, these days reality TV stars can make a career out of being – themselves, without any talent besides perky tits, an itty-bitty waistline, and the ability to convince an television audience that they’re a money-hungry dumb slut. But hey, they’re making way more money than I am and probably having a lot more fun doing it, so who am I to judge?

In our culture, we reward people for being as superficial as possible. The latest news from the world of Reality TV is that Megan Hauserman, the big-breasted bombshell of Beauty & the Geek, Rock of Love 2, Charm School, and I Love Money is starring in her own gold-digging reality series.

In case you’re a millionaire who wants to broadcast your quest for a trophy wife on TV (instead of just hiring a high-priced call girl like a good, normal millionaire), Megan, the accounting major from Florida, wants you. That is, she wants your money. And you. As much as any star on a reality TV dating show could actually want another person who needs reality TV to set them up.

She announced the casting search on her MySpace page earlier this month… are you “Looking for the ultimate TROPHY WIFE?” Not only would your prize come complete with a life’s worth of obnoxious and bank-account draining spending habits, you’ll also win, uh, the right to one hellova pre-nup if you decide to actually seal the deal.

Granted, I’m guilty for watching these TV shows. I can’t get enough of gold diggers and the wealthy, and their drama. It makes me somehow be able to accept and take pride in my middle class status. It also makes me terribly jealous of women who are hot enough to qualify for a television show where they are offered on a silver platter as a Trophy Wife.

Another show all about money, from a bit more normal perspective, is Bravo’s “Real Housewives of…” I’ve caught a few episodes of their various series – Orange County, New York, and Atlanta… and I must say, I’m more jealous of these women than I am of Ms. Trophy Wife Hauserman. Then again, most of them were that hot when they were in their 20s and 30s (most are still that hot, just in the 40+ year old sense… I don’t think you can be a Trophy Wife once you hit a certain age, then you’re just a wife.)

Still, these women are… real people. Their psychology is a bit different than that of say, a normal working person with no means of reaching the upper echelons of society, and they expect a bit more out of their shopping sprees… but even with all that money, they’re still real people. I watched an episode recently where two couples went to Sonoma’s wine country and felt awkward in a ritzy restaurant that served a bagillion mini courses and offered a snobs dream menu. It’s fun to watch the rich feel silly being what rich is supposed to be.

Another reality TV series I couldn’t help but watch lately is Paris Hilton’s: My New BFF. The series ended a few weeks back, but I remember the episodes clearly. And in the end, I still don’t understand what the contestents were competing for, and how this supposed friendship would work. It makes for riviting TV (on the reality TV show spectrum, on MTV) for sure, but why compete to be a best friend? Friendships, like relationships, are supposed to be equal. You can’t compete for a best friend and then expect a relationship to be normal. Paris bought her BFF contestents expensive gifts throughout the competition — they shared lavish days at the spa, gold-plated $1000 sundaes in NY, and shopping sprees where Paris announced “it’s on me, whatever you want.” I doubt that’s how the “friendship” would work once the show concluded.

If anything, the show was interesting because what Paris was really looking for was a business partner. With Nicole Richie out of the picture, who would be her assistant (I mean, partner) in crime? She needs someone who looks cute, takes a good photo, and can help her continue to brand… herself. The show didn’t mention any sort of pay this best friend would be getting, but how would her new bestie afford to be Paris’ friend without some compensation? The show should have really been called Paris Hilton’s: My New VP

I do applaud MTV for their series Exiled, where they take super spoiled teens (who appeared on My Super Sweet Sixteen) and send them to third world countries, where they’re forced to spend a week living in the shoes of people with far less than them. They have to do things even I wouldn’t do – like build houses with cow poop. Ew. It’s a good show in teaching these young, spoiled children about the rest of the world before they’re too old and spoiled to care.