Category Archives: Other

life after DUI: attempting to start over without really starting over.



Life happens. Mistakes are made. How the rest of your life turns out depends on how quickly you’re able to bounce back, as well as how you’re able to turn things around and not make the same mistakes again.

It’s been six months since pleading “no contest” to my DUI arrest at .08% BAC, and 10 months since the actual evening of the arrest. I’ve gone through many phases after the arrest, including depression, shame, guilt, anger, and now, coping and trying to move on.

I’ve been without a car for months now — thought I’m eligible to register for a restricted license to get to work, I’ve been avoiding that and driving because I’m scared to let myself get near a car. On Monday, I’ve finally made myself a DMV appointment to purchase a restricted license. This summer, once my classes are over, I should be able to get a full license and attempt to bring my life back to normal, or better yet, move forward to a place I’ve never been — in control, and in charge of my own happiness.

In my DUI class the other day, we had to do an exercise called “the 12 hours before your DUI.” It had a series of multiple choice questions, that because with — “was it on a usual or unusual day?” For me, it was an unusual day. I was having a huge bought of anxiety and hadn’t moved from my bed for the entire day, not even to eat. I don’t even remember why I was so stressed, but I was having a bad enough panic attack that I requested to work from home that day. Then, around 5pm I decided it would be best to force myself to get out of the house and go to a meetup event, where I could try to be social and get myself some food. Unfortunately, instead of food, there was only wine and a lot more anxiety. So I had four or so glasses to drink on a very empty stomach.

The questionnaire went on to ask what time you started drinking, where you were, and what time you were arrested. I started at 7pm, finished at 9:30pm, and was arrested around 12:30pm. Why were you arrested? My option was “other.” Most people in the class had been pulled over for driving poorly. I have the lowest BAC in the class at .08%. Most people had .14% or higher, with a few .20% and higher. Some stories are so crazy (like the guy who got arrested with three kids in the back seat and a .24% and, because he had a good lawyer, got less of a punishment than I did with my .08% and no traffic violation) or the woman who was drinking all day and ended up driving with a .22% to help her friend out who forgot her seizure medication at a party. Most people were celebrating, a few had been drinking all night, went to sleep and woke up the next morning to drive, only to get a DUI because the alcohol hadn’t left their system.

At the end, the questionnaire asked four final questions:

1. Do you feel responsible for the events leading up to your DUI?
2. Do you think it was fair that you were arrested?
3. How likely are you to get a DUI again?
4. How hard will it be for you to get a second DUI?

We’re told that 40% of first DUI offenders will get a second DUI. That seems ridiculously high, but in forcing myself to answer these questions honestly, I understood why.

1. Do you feel responsible for the events leading up to your DUI? Yes, entirely.

2. Do you think it was fair that you were arrested? Somewhat. I think it was unfair I was arrested that night because someone called 911 on me walking to my car — not even because I was driving poorly — and all of the videos they force us to watch show accidents with people who had .15% or higher — but I also am glad they did because it was much better to learn this lesson on a night I was just barely over the legal limit, then another night when I might have been more depressed, more intoxicated, and hurt someone. I still think it is unfair how people who have clearly had a lot more to drink end up with the same punishment or even lesser punishment if they have good lawyers.

3. How likely are you to get a DUI again? Very unlikely. I wanted, so desperately, to put that it definitely wouldn’t happen, but then I wanted to be honest.

4. How hard will it be for you not to get a second DUI?  The only real way for me to guarantee that I will never get a DUI again is to stop drinking. Of course when I’m sober I can say I wouldn’t drive after I drink, but the problem is that when you drink you think irrationally. I’m a lightweight, and after even one drink my logic goes to shit. I am glad that this experience after the DUI is so frustrating — because it’s easier to “forget” paying $10k over the years, but it’s not easy to forget the night in jail, the five days of SWAP program where I was a part time convict and freedoms were taken away from me, and now, this year of my life which has been really difficult due to not having a car, putting a great deal of stress on not only my life, but also my boyfriend’s life, as he has so kindly helped drive me over the year. Somehow I’m managed to maintain my job this last year, but I’ve been severely depressed, and have gained more than 20 pounds, now at my largest weight ever. I feel so out of control, and so I just eat and eat. This is another reason I must get my life back in order.

I won’t get a second DUI, I promise myself, and I promise the world, but I also said I wouldn’t get a first. I think that sort of messes with your mind also… which might lead to the likelihood of people getting a second or third, even. But I refuse to be a statistic.
Beyond the DUI, though, there is a question of whether I should drink in the first place. It’s challenging not to, with my work culture tied to our weekly happy hour. I like drinking too, because I’m so shy and awkward, at the time, it helps me be social, and feel like I belong. It isn’t like I’m going out to get shit faced, but even one drink of red wine makes me more comfortable with others. I wish I could figure out a way to feel like that without the alcohol. It also turns out that since the DUI, I’ve started drinking more than I used to, because of this depression and hatred over losing the last bit of control I felt like I had with life.
In any case, I’m really focused on moving on with my life. There’s a lot going on right now causing me to be depressed beyond this issue, things that the rational, not depressed person would be able to deal with, things that are really making getting through each day difficult. Luckily there is a lot of positive things in my life right now too, so it all balances out. There are days when I feel like giving up. I’ll write more about that in my next post.
I just want all of the DUI penalties to be done with, so I can really move on. I’ve finished seven of my 17 classes (which are taking a long time because they are weekly and I frequently travel for work), and I’ll be paying the fines and increase in insurance for years to come. I finally filled my SR-22 with my insurance, so I can get the restricted license, and will be getting that on Monday. My car apparently isn’t turning on because it hasn’t been driven in months, so I need to see if it can be fixed or if I need a new car. Soon this will be over. And I really, desperately, need to change my life so this — and other things like this — do not happen again. My next post will be on self sabotage and how this effects life and my financial stability.

 

 

DUI Saga Continues: SWAP Day One

I’m not sure how common this is in other states, but in California they push DUI offenders (as well as other petty criminals) to trade in a more threatening and time-consuming jail sentence for day-time “SWAP” / volunteer work.

Although I received my DUI in August and quasi-plea bargain in November, today was my first of 5 days to do this “volunteer work.” To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I arrived this morning at 8am and saw hundreds of men gathered at the location I was headed, I thought I was going to be the only female in a crowd of mostly gangbanger men. The area is ripe with gang violence, and plenty of the men had tattoos that looked like they might be gang-related. Ok, so I was a little nervous about spending a few days with these men, even if it was under police supervision cleaning up the side of the road.

Today, I can’t even describe what normal SWAP duty is like. They were overwhelmed by the number of people that showed up for SWAP duty that they ran out of projects to have people work on. A good 50-100 of us were left behind in the jail parking garage, where we were not allowed out, but also had nothing to do. And having nothing to do (we weren’t allowed to bring anything with us besides lunch, a watter bottle, and ID) was a good bit of kind torture to the criminals. The worst of it was how cold it got in the garage, even as it warmed up outside with the sun, only small rays broke through the barred windows. At one point my hands started to turn blue.

We had to stay there from 8am to 4pm. At 8am, everyone lined up and it took a good hour-and-a-half for them to process the masses of about 400-500 people. It wasn’t very clear what was going on until they finally brought out chairs for the remainder of us and all the buses had left. So we wouldn’t be picking up garbage on the side of the road, we’d be in jail, albeit an extra-cold jail with nothing to do. I think jail at least lets you have books and writing equipment. It was an extremely long, cold, boring day, and I get to get up to do it all again tomorrow, not to mention next Saturday and Sunday, and the Saturday after that.

I had more of a post written here but WordPress ate it, so I’ll have to write part 2 tomorrow after I get back from day 2. Maybe I’ll actually get to go out to the field to pick up trash and “work” — the fresh air would be much better than being trapped in a frigid parking garage with nothing to do all day long.

 

 

 

10 Financial Commandments for Your 20s: Part 1

The other day, I was reading Give Me Back My Five Bucks, one of my favorite personal finance blogs on the web, and came across a series on 10 Financial Commandments for Your 20s, based off a Kiplinger article written a few years back. As Krystal, author of GMBMYB, detailed how she’s doing with the commandments in a two-part series, I thought I’d do the same. If you’re in your 20s, you should too!

1. Plan ahead. To get where you want to go in life, you need goals and a plan to reach them. Having neither is like driving a car without a steering wheel — with your eyes closed.  Start by asking yourself what you want in your future. Think about the short term (five years or less), medium term (five to ten years) and long term (20-plus years). Now you’re driving with your eyes open. Then take hold of the steering wheel to reach your goals.

Score: C. My idea of planning ahead is trying to not spend all of my income for the month. Some months I succeed, some months I don’t. My planning is less itemized as it is general, ie “hit $150k in networth this year.” That isn’t a bad goal for someone who is 27, but when I look at the big-picture purchases/expenses (house, new car, retirement, etc) nothing seems possible without some big exit at my current company. While I have faith my company is going to be huge and feel very fortunate for the opportunity to be a part of it, nothing is certain, and I’m doing terrible at having a real plan for my 30s and beyond.

2. Live within your means. Can’t afford something? Don’t buy it. Sounds simple, but too many people have a heck of a time following this one and get in over their heads in debt. Borrow sparingly, and only for those things that have lasting value, such as a home or an education. Continue reading 10 Financial Commandments for Your 20s: Part 1

10 Years Since I Left Home & The Meaning of Life

As I was looking around my room this morning at my parent’s house, it hit me — it has been 10 years this month since I left home, moved west for college, and then more west for my current life. Ten years is a very long time; the person I was when I was 10 and 20 was certainly different, and 17 and 27 is just as far of a stretch.

In my room, I still feel at home, and yet I feel like I’m so much bigger now, I’ve outgrown this space, this is the space where I hid away years ago. Now, I’m a grown up. I have my own life, but I haven’t actually found anywhere else that feels like home yet. I know one day, my parents will sell this place, and this room, the view, this life, will be gone. Gone forever, only available to access when I close my mind and daydream about the years gone by.

Growing up is frightening and wonderful all at once. I hate that I was so miserable as a child, but I can’t help but look at the entirety of my life and feel like I’m so much happier, on a whole, the way things are now. I still feel like an outsider looking in, but at the very least my talents and skills are better suited for “doing” versus “learning,” and childhood is a life revolving around academia and friendships — success by doing is often limited to praise for artwork or a school performance. I define myself now by my work — and when I’m depressed now it’s because I feel I’m not doing my job good enough. But often I feel like I’m doing a good job, which makes me proud of existing, and able to get through to the next day, and occasionally share a laugh with a colleague or friend.

Still, I feel a little lost on the overall meaning of life. Maybe that will take the next 10 years to figure out. I’d assume between 27 and 37 is when that all gets sorted. So much of that is the whole marriage and family situation, which still seems surreal when I try to contemplate what it means. I love my boyfriend dearly, we’ve been together more than 5 years now, yet I can’t help but wonder how all of that plays out. Part of me wishes I were dating someone more adventurous, after all I so rarely take meaningful risks in social settings, yet I love to meet new people, and therefore might be better suited to someone who would push me out of my comfort zone.

I sit around watching Millionaire Matchmaker and have fantasies about a life filled with conversation, travel, meeting new people and having new experiences. I fantasize about lots of ways life “could” be — and try to figure out how much of that is on me, on my own, to make that all happen, versus selecting the right significant other. Still, when I spend time to contemplate a life with another man who is more extroverted and adventurous than I am, I believe it would get tiring after a while. I love love; pure and simple. And I have that now — I have a boyfriend who, for some bizarre reason, still looks at me with such love in his eyes, and holds me tightly as we waste away the days. I don’t have incredible conversation (he rarely talks), but maybe that’s for the best — I can’t stand people who don’t shut up, and would rather have a guarantee of peace and quiet in my home life, knowing that when I come home after a long day of work, I won’t be expected to make conversation. Perhaps over the long run, that’s actually the better scenario — I can find friends to socialize with, but it’s hard to get a chatterbox to shut up.

It’s clear that whatever the right answer is, I need to figure it out soon. I’ve mostly figured it out. I can’t imagine my life without my bf, and whether it’s maturity or stability or just having him in my life, I don’t know, but I’ve never been happier. I’m still slightly bipolar (II), still have my ups and my deep downs, but I feel consistent, safe, and loved. I tell him often “don’t die” because my life would crumble without him. If that’s not enough of a sign that this is the right man for me, I don’t know what is.

So when does this next phase of my life start? I’m almost 28, many of my childhood friends are married, quite a few have children or have a bun in the oven, and I’m still single, comparatively speaking. Five and a half years into my relationship and still, no ring. Not that I’m in a rush — I’d rather wait and be sure than jump into anything too quickly. But at this point it’s tough to question whether we are or aren’t sure. If we are sure, and committed to continue dating, it’s at the point where I’d rather have that commitment, or force myself, as hard as it would be, to move on. I’m not getting any younger, and the fact remains that due to my medical condition it’s best to have children within the next five years. That’s not a lot of time to break up, find someone else to marry, marry them, and pop out a few kids. So that’s what scares me the most — I’m pretty sure, unless I mess things up, he will one day ask me to marry him, and I will say yes, and everything will still be on a nice schedule for that next phase of my life. I just don’t know if I’m ready to be that person yet; but I also know that it’s time to be a mother, to be giving of myself to my children, and to love harder than I’ve ever loved before. I’m tired to death of not having anyone to care about but myself, as that only leads to selfishness and narcissism. I want to take care of someone else. I think, I hope, I’m ready for that.

Career vs. Family in Silicon Valley: 20s to 30s

In the past week, I’ve spoken with two very successful women — one in her 50s that is a working mother, the other in her 30s who left the working world to take care of her children years ago, after a fast-growing and successful career. I asked the first if she wishes she worked less and had more time for her children, and asked the second if she wished she worked more. For both, they thought they had made the best decisions for them.

The one that isn’t working now is married to a very successful man, so financially it’s unlikely she’ll have issues. This post is not really about finances, though. It’s about life. The woman in her 30s who left her career to be a full-time mom said the other women in her social group tend to be older, but also are women who were extremely successful in their careers and then quit to become full-time mothers. The other woman, in her 50s, who has worked her whole life, also lives in an area where most of the women are stay-at-home mothers. For both of them, they don’t quite fit in the social groups of their towns, but they are doing what is right for them. And both are happy with their decisions, at least compared to the alternate options.

I’m turning 28 in four months. The years are passing so quickly now. My career, although always at risk due to my depression, is on its way up. I feel like I finally have a real career. Which is a good feeling approaching my 30s. Still, I look at all of my friends and acquaintances who are announcing their weddings and showing off photos of their children on Facebook, and I feel like I’m so far behind. I don’t need to get married or have kids (that surely makes the “work” vs “stay at home” mom decision easier… without the mom part) but I also try to imagine myself, 10 years from now, without a family and I can’t figure out if that vision makes sense or not.

In the meantime, I can’t imagine giving up my career, or not having time to spend with my future, potential children. I’ve talked to one of the few other women at my office, and the only one with a kid (one 15-month old) and asked her how she does it. With a nanny and a kid that sounds to be well behaved, it’s not that hard, she poses it’s easy. She goes to work, she comes home and plays with her kid for an hour or two, then does more work.

My boyfriend and I have been together almost 5.5 years, and while we joke about marriage it’s far off. I don’t mind that really. Unlike some women, I don’t long for a fancy wedding and the legalities behind marriage. But I’m starting to seriously want kids. It probably has to do with all those pictures of my friend’s kids on Facebook, but it’s also cultural and biological. Somewhere it makes sense to me to have kids now, though marriage itself seems like something I’m not ready for yet. That sounds so odd — but I know I’m ready to love a child with all my heart and put that kid in front of all my needs. I’m tired of my own needs now anyway. The “game” of a career doesn’t really excite me anymore. I don’t see myself being good enough at my career to ever be a VP. In my industry, 99% of the VPs are men anyway. That’s not to say I shouldn’t want to be that 1% that are female, I just look at the females that make it that far and they are so slick, so smart, and I don’t think I can reach that level. In the meantime, I feel like I could be a good mother. I have so much love and care to give. I know that’s not all that is required of being a parent, and it’s probably the hardest job in the word, but I think I can manage it. And for what it’s worth, you don’t have to get promoted when you’re a parent. You get smiles and hugs and doors slammed in your face for your yearly review on a daily basis.

The woman I spoke to in her 50s who is a working mother told me that marriage is the worst thing ever invented. She’s miserable in her marriage and wants out, but can’t because of the kids and the house. I don’t know if I can have a happy marriage and a career and kids — it seems that combination is very, very difficult (not that my parents, with a stay-at-home mom, have a good marriage either.) I don’t even know what I want in life — the only thing that seems real, like a good goal, is to have kids. All the other stuff, the professional status, the cultural status, the nice car, house, the husband even, seem like extras.

It’s probably a fantasy world I’m living in where this all “makes sense,” still, I can imagine myself in 10 years without a job, but I can’t imagine myself in 10 years without kids. And that says a lot for what I need to do for that to happen. Because 10 years will come and go in the blink of an eye.

 

Want vs. Need vs. Reality.

Glistening in the sun, the blue glass vase called to me from across the park. Want. I walked towards it, the gold crackle on top of it speaking to me as I approached. And then, reality. The price tag. $850. And, so, I looked at this beautiful vase for a few minutes, smiled, and moved on.

I’d love to one day own a house where I could collect beautiful art pieces. But will that day ever come? And should I really want that? It seems a waste to buy $850 vases made out of glass. At what point in life – and income – can you purchase $5k paintings for your living room, and $1k sculptures to bring out the color in the painting?

At this point, all I can think about is saving. Besides food, where I spent a ridiculous amount of money, I’ve become extremely frugal. I finally got my car air conditioning fixed after 3 years of having no air conditioning. The car is still a visual wreck, but it runs. My clothes are starting to fall apart, but I’ve avoided the mall because I don’t like to spend money anymore. Well, I like to spend a lot of money. Not a little bit of money.

I want to figure out a way to reach my dream of being able to have a house that I decorate in a very personal style with art that I carefully curate. It seems the life I want to live requires a luck of the draw. Or, perhaps, I should be like the many women who only date men who hold six figure careers. I’ve completely failed in that department, so it’s all up to me to achieve my dreams. I just don’t think it’s possible. It is, in a way, as in my current company is doing well and there’s a chance I’ll walk away with a decent chunk of change if I can manage to hold my own for the years to come. Is that the ticket to this dream? What would that dream even be in reality?

April Budget

After spending $6300 in March, I need to create and stick to a tight budget for April to balance out my spending last month. And, honestly, I’ll be so busy recovering from my 2 full body, 90-minute laser hair removal sessions that I won’t really have a lot of time to think about spending money. All for the best.

My April Budget
$633 Home
$250 Food
$200 Auto
$150 Bills
$150 Entertainment
$150 Personal Care
$100 Gifts
$100 Health
$100 Shopping
$50 Travel
$20 Fees
—————
Total Spend: $1903
Income Expectation: $5210
Leftover: $3307 ($1500 in IRA, $1000 in Sharebuilder, $1000 liquid
I will be checking in weekly to make sure I’m on track to hit this goal

I’m Taking the $4k Hair-Free Plunge: Why Laser Hair Removal is (Hopefully) Worth The Investment

So long $4k. $4.5k to be exact. I’m splurging on something that is (after a lot of pain) going to make me a much happier person. That thing is Laser Hair Removal. And it’s something that I’ve been wanting to fully invest in for a long time.

Let me preface this post by saying that I’ve already had some laser hair removal done. I’ve probably spend $2k already on 8 treatments for my face, 5 treatments for my underarm and one for my bikini area. For those of you who don’t know, laser hair removal requires multiple sessions because your hair grows in phases. Generally speaking people need 5-10 sessions per area to have most of the hair removed permanently.

Laser Hair Removal is extremely expensive, and it’s not a sure bet. My hormonal issues (PCOS) means that while LHR will kill hair currently growing, new hair might decide to pop up at any time. Still, I’ve found Laser Hair Removal a worthwhile investment so far, and I’m ready to invest in what it takes to go completely hair free. For some people who aren’t that hairy, it might not be worth it. But… TMI… I’m a hairy beast. And the truth is that my hair doesn’t just bother me, it hurts my relationship with others. As my hair grows back so quickly, it hurts intimacy with my boyfriend. He just doesn’t want to touch me at all if my legs are the least bit prickly. Meanwhile, having to shave all the dark hair frequently means a mess in the bathroom that takes a long time to clean up. And don’t get me started on Nair…

So I’ve done my research. I’ve made spreadsheets with the cost of getting each body part cleared of hair. Every time I added up the costs, even with the 40% off discounts that some of the local places run twice a year, it would still cost me $10k to get close to the amount of LHR I’d need. And then hair might still grow back, and it would be an unfinished job. I didn’t want a $10k unfinished job.

A year ago I found a place that’s about an hour drive away that offers Unlimited Laser Hair Removal. It seems almost too good to be true, but it’s also not all that cheap. I went to visit for a consultation (I actually met the nurse at another medspa in the city that was charging a lot more for the same equipment) and the place seemed clean, reputable, and has been around for a while. It uses an Alexandrite laser which is the right kind for my light skin and dark hair. So I’m game.

Still, it’s tough to plunk down $4k on anything. After all, I spent $7k on my car and that was, well, my CAR. I just figure if i’m going to invest in laser hair removal I might as well do it sooner than later — the value comes from being hair free for a long time, not waiting until I’m old enough to afford it. And, heck, I am old enough to afford it. I saved a lot of money last year, I deserve to “treat” myself.

And by treat myself, I mean TORTURE myself. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, laser hair removal is extremely painful. I had my bikini area done with it to test it out and… YIKES. Even with numbing cream it hurt. Well, the worst part was my inner thighs and around back. I cringe at the thought of all the pain I will endure, over and over again, to be hair free. But today I don’t feel the pain and my face is a lot smoother than it was a year ago (yea, yea, yea PCOS makes me have a beard, ugh.) I know I will be a much happier person when I go hair free. And that, my friends, is worth $4k.

I refuse to give up on the American Dream

My American Dream, like many others who grew up in the “upper middle class,” was to continue living that lifestyle — maybe better — as I grew into adulthood and beyond. That meant a house with a lawn, a few bedrooms (with at least one extra for guests), in a neighborhood where you felt safe and could go for a walk down the street without worrying about being shot or mugged. And in that dream was a family — 2 or 3 kids — and the ability to have them take dance classes or piano lessons or attend baseball camp over the summers. And all of this was going to be my reality before I turned 30 (pre birth of the kids).

At the age of 27, I’ve revised that dream slightly, though likely not enough. At 27, I have ~$120k saved. $109k in investments, $27k in cash & cds – what I owe in taxes this year ($10k?)

And still, that savings feels like nothing compared to what I need to give my future family the lifestyle I had as a kid. That amount is pennies towards owning even a 1br condo here.
Around this area, 1brs are going for $599k or $335k or $459k.

Meanwhile, I’m paying $635 per month, or about $7650 a year to live in a small-ish room in a nice-ish condo. I have two roommates (one of them is leaving this summer so we’re going to have to find another roommate, but that’s a tale for a diff post.)

It just seems unreasonable to dream of owning property ever. At least not here.

The American Dream seems out of reach mostly because of my choice in significant other, and maybe in my choice of career. I’m not quite hitting six figures yet, but I’ve saved a reasonable amount of money each year.

My boyfriend still lives at home, so any money he makes he can save. But at 28, he still isn’t working a full time job, he’s making $20 an hour on contract because he doesn’t want to look for a different job and he’s planning on maybe going to grad school next year. I am very supportive of his plans for grad school but with that come loans that will hit when we’re in our early 30s, exactly when we’ll want to have kids. And he has very little savings and no IRA. And he doesn’t want to talk about it. After all, we’re just dating now. But as I’m approaching my 30s, the money has to come into play, a little bit.

I look at my friends who are dating men who are more stable in their careers. I look at my friends who are dating older men who already can afford houses. Some of these friends also work full time, others are working at jobs they love that would never afford them a house on their own.

In my life — I see myself as the breadwinner. The one who will bring home the soy bacon. And I don’t see myself as having the ability to be the same kind of breadwinner my dad was — the kind that could afford the house, the summer camp, the suburban lifestyle. So sometimes I wonder if I should have been more picky in choosing a life partner. I could have targeted men with full-time jobs, already established in their careers. Instead, I fell in love with a guy who isn’t going to push to make a lot of money in his life. And while I admire that about him, it also scares me enough that I’m coming to terms with the possibility that I will rent for the rest of my life and never have children. I just cannot afford them.

Still, I don’t want to give up on the American Dream. It feels about 10 years away right now, but by then it will be too late to have kids. My having children will basically eat up my entire savings — I’m figuring $40k a kid due to my PCOS and need for various fertility treatments, so 2 kids (with no guarantees it will work) and I’m back to square one.

How much of the American Dream should I give up on? Should I strategically place myself somewhere I can earn more than $100k a year? The odds of my stock options ever being worth enough to get me where I need to be at 31 (when they’d vest) are slim to null — even if my company does well. So I get depressed about this… I can’t comprehend how to get to financial stability in my life. Or, I can’t comprehend it where I’m the breadwinner of the story… where I can’t count on a reasonable dual income household. And that really freaks me out. Well, it makes me, again, accept that I’ll be renting a tiny room in a shared space with no kids my entire life. Maybe that’s not so bad. But that’s certainly not my American Dream.

All of the Happiness Your Money Can’t Buy

I was driving home from work the other day on a four-lane street with red lights every couple of blocks. My tank on empty, the orange light slowly blinking its death dance. Like many other days of my life, I was panicking. Tears were streaming down my face in an over-dramatic fashion, my heart racing, my mind toying with thoughts of suicide — more for effect than attempt. Still, the deep feeling of being overwhelmed, and more importantly, lacking a clear, quantifiable route towards happiness, kept my smile at bay and the tears flowing.

Happiness is a word I’d like to be able to define, to purchase, to set on a shelf and put on one arm at a time when I need a heaping of motivation and will to live. But it doesn’t work like that. I’ve spent my life trying to find happiness and keeping myself from it. I can complain on and on about my parent’s poor job at instilling a sense of healthy confidence in me, but I refuse to blame them entirely for my failures, or successes. The truth is, though, having been raised by a family with no comprehension of non-narcissistic care or love, it’s tough to comprehend my own definition of success, and if that success should even equate to happiness.

If I were homeless, or unemployed for an extended period, my parents would certainly see me as a failure. I had never seen my father proud of me until the day earlier this year when I announced to him I had secured a $65 / hr job (well, contract.) He immediately bragged to other family members about my success. “My daughter is a real person now,” he said, beaming, and although he never really understood my job (social media marketing?) he was still quite content with taking some sort of credit for my income. And when that contract ended and I moved on to another job – lower paying albeit still of a good salary, he didn’t let anyone know my income had been reduced, though he quit bragging since I had again joined the group of Americans making under $100k.

Happiness… in my life… has always felt like something you need to strive for, in being someone other than yourself if you can’t be perfect. I was never perfect. I was far from it. As a child, my parents assumed I was smart, and because I could draw something that somewhat resembled a still life sat down in front of me I was also a brilliant artist. My singing voice, while something I enjoyed using, was not, however, reflective of natural talent.

My mother always beamed when I was on stage, however, as she both knew I had no talent and wanted me to be her shining star. For what it’s worth, she’s tone deaf, and I’m unable to maintain pitch, so quality vocals equated to being able to belt loud with a lot of vibrato, even though later I learned that my soprano voice could never accomplish that style in a healthy way (despite that, I still try to sound like Sutton Foster when I’m alone in the shower.) I always felt if I had talent people would love me, and I’d be happy. But talent, at least in the performing arts, has not proven to be my forte.

My father would always be proud of my academic accomplishments, though his praise faded once I reached second grade and lost my drive, focus, and/or care on academics. A math man who likely also has ADD (though he’d never admit it), he would teach me about math and science and I would not pay attention, then he’d get upset with me for not listening, and eventually he gave up trying to teach me, he gave up on my ever being an academic. And so did I. I would daydream in class. I never read my assignments or did my work. I don’t know how I got by school, but I managed to do as little work as possible, and make up stories when asked questions about history that were on occasion 75% accurate (or at least creative enough the teacher didn’t mind passing me out of pity and amusement.)

School was always about watching the red second hand slowly scroll around the clock. I enthusiastically participated when I randomly knew an answer, I dreaded gym class and wished art class were longer. In high school I took as many arts electives as possible and had to take the lowest level match class junior year because I had already completed the higher level math — taking Algebra I in 8th grade, Geometry in 9th and Algebra II in 10th, I needed one more year of math and Functions, Statistics and Trig was beyond my ability to fake. I easily see myself as a giant failure of academia. Whether that was due to lack of intellect, focus, or out of a deep-seated hatred towards my parent’s idea of success, I don’t know. I just failed. But, I also passed. I passed, I managed a 1230 on my SATs (back when the total was 1600), I showed off my paintings for college applications — having decided only to apply to schools for theatre design, not academics — and received admissions letters from four out of the five, with the fifth — Emerson — denying my admission since I had only taken one year of a foreign language in high school (the theater department told me I would have been admitted otherwise.)

I still hated school… but I was excited about college, about starting over, about maybe finding happiness. I hadn’t found it at home. My life was this — disappointing parents while at the same time parents being convinced that I’m the next Picasso (I’m not), being obsessed with people I admired, convincing myself that I was a waste of space, ugly, nothing, and not good enough for anyone I’d want to spend time with, sitting in the hallway painting flowers, trees, hoping that someone would recognize talent in me, see me as good enough, but I just felt more and more lost, removed from people, hated or misunderstood, but never connected. And the only thing that remotely brought me happiness was being a goofball, slightly annoying, and making my friends laugh. That’s how I had any friends… I was a joke, and that was my happiness.

In college I felt lonelier than ever. My major — costume design — which I choose because I wanted to be a famous actress but was told I had no talent in acting but only in art — was a terrible choice. I hated costume design, and I was jealous of the actors, and I disliked most of my classes. I didn’t fit in anywhere – certainly not in the theatre school, not the feminist group which I started to hang out with, nor with anyone else. I still got off on being the joke, found a few people who liked to roll their eyes at me and kept them entertained. But I was alone without a purpose — and while failure was not an option, it presented itself at the buffet come sophomore year.

So I was kicked out of the costume design program, but not entirely out of school. I almost had all my credits for theatre studies, so I switched to that, took some other theatre classes, things got a little better. Realized I was interested in some softer academic topics… specifically sociology… enrolled in classes that dissected culture, not frogs or the history of architecture. Loved my class on the sociology of celebrity. Even had some good classes in the theatre school… found I enjoyed theatre criticism, and the professor, a Chicago Tribune critic even enjoyed my reviews and told me I had talent.

Talent… that unique magic that makes one person better(?) than the next was still the only path to happiness I understood. So I clung to the rare moment when a professor would tell me I had — it. Some special way of looking at the world that held value outside of my skull. All I ever wanted was to feel special. And that was something I knew no amount of money could buy. But I wanted to be able to one day know that my parents were proud of me, and that I did it my own way.

Fast forward five years out of college. I’ve had a thousand ups and downs. More downs than ups. I’ve kept running, left college, graduated, moved to California, tried to start over again. Tried to put a claim on my own definition of happiness. To be applauded for something unique inside me so I could one day prove that I’ve achieved the necessary divinity to be a success in my parents eyes, and in the eyes of all the other kids, parents and teachers who didn’t know what to make of me, who bullied me, who didn’t even see me.

And, so, this week I’m driving home from work, tears pouring out of my eyes, like an overly dramatic soap opera star who had just been betrayed, listening to the horn of the train, thinking about how wonderful it would be if I could relieve myself of this duty to be special, to be anything, and just to end it all. Not that I ever would, I’m far to terrified of death, of the moment in which my actions made the end inevitable, and any pain I’d feel, or thoughts I’d have, but I bring this up only to share how lost I am in my quest for happiness, and how painful it is to have no direction. How scary it is to have all my motivation tied towards this blurry and constantly moving picture of success, an undeniably selfish and impractical goal that is on the top of a tall mountain with a cliff on the other side.

Why does this story belong in my personal finance blog? Because right now I’m torn in attempting to develop a healthy and reasonable definition of happiness. I live and work in an area where many are very well off, and the well off are often special in that way I dream of being special. They’re brilliant engineers and entrepreneurs who are changing the world. They’re millionaires and billionaires. They’re humble yet living in glorious homes with breathtaking views, nestled in the hills overlooking the Bay. They’re my coworkers. They’re the people I drive behind on 280, all sharing in the priceless scenery. They’re the people I stand on line with at Bloomingdales when I shouldn’t be buying a $400 dress, and they’re buying $2000 shoes to wear to a charity dinner.

I hate stuff. I used to want stuff. Not even nice stuff, just stuff. Being able to buy without concern about one’s bank account felt good. I wanted a nice house, all this stuff… and to get that stuff I needed money. And maybe that would be happiness, success, that would be enough.

But I’m over that. I’m over stuff. I still would like a house one day but that day seems so far off and unlikely. And I also now realize that owning a house would be a pain. I’d rather rent. I’d rather own little. I’d rather have an old car in case it gets a dent than a nice new car that I’m terrified to drive.

So… in this constantly shifting concept of happiness and success, I’ve finally come to a conclusion…

1) I want kids. But the reason I want kids, to raise them better than my parents raised me, is selfish, and probably won’t work. Therefore, it’s probably the best that I don’t have kids.

2) I could spend my life being successful and I’d be miserable. I’m only truly happy when I feel like I’m helping people. That’s selfish too, but maybe that’s ok.

3) I’ve never learned how to love, or to care for other people. But I have so much love to give. So much care. And I need a place to spend that without worrying about getting something back for it. Without money or success getting in the way. So I want to get my life in order by February, and then find a place to volunteer. Maybe with kids. Maybe at a hospital. I like to help people. I don’t know if I can, I don’t trust myself to be able to, but if I had a choice between a new pair of jeans or spending a day with a sick kid, I’d surely chose the later. So maybe I’m not as bad of a person as I think I am…

4) I need to start somewhere — to volunteer — see if I can maintain this generosity in action versus just in thought. If that works out, maybe I need to confront my career path and ask myself why I’m here. Marketing can help people, yes, but no one will pretend my current product is designed to help society. It’s designed to help business. And that’s great. And that’s capitalism. And that’s my ticket to maybe, just maybe, being a millionaire like the woman at the mall with the small dog and casual Burberry ensemble.

… but if I ever made it there, if my bank account statement ever read $1,000,000 or more, would that change anything? My father (if he were alive then) would call everyone he knows to brag that his daughter is a millionaire. My mom would expect me to buy her things, and complain that she never has enough money. My boyfriend wouldn’t care. I might be able to put a sizable down payment on a house here, but I’d still feel empty. Had I obtained the money through building my own company, maybe that would feel a little bit like success, but I’d still feel empty. I’d still feel like I’m chasing everyone else’s dreams.

Today, I want to find out what my dreams are. I started reading “The Last Lecture,” the famous book of lectures by a a then dying Carnegie Mellon computer science professor who wanted to pass on his legacy and wisdom. Two adderall and a now empty carpet into cleaning, I picked up the book that was gifted at a “Women and MBA” weekend at CMU, and started to read. I got to chapter three — entirely focused on the words, my mind not skipping any of them — and then stopped, and started to write this blog post.

What are my dreams? I think that’s to lead a simple life, to make people smile, to feel needed, to read, to love, and to care. Most importantly to feel it’s ok to care deeply for imperfection, and to strive for happiness sans external praise in the form of applause or paycheck. After all, life is extremely short, whether I end it myself today or live to 100, and as long as I’m living I might as well find the means to smile.