Advice, Healthy & Beautiful

Every Woman Should Empower Herself Financially

When I was in my 20s which was (ahem) almost 20 years ago, I (naively) believed I would find a good man, get married, and never have to worry about my financial future again.  Throughout those years, I had a lot of fun – I traveled, partied, moved to Seattle, San Diego, and back to D.C., bought luxury cars, went shopping for the latest fashions, but NEVER saved a dime.  In fact, I put myself in a lot of debt, living my carefree lifestyle, enjoying every bit of it. I justified the high balance on my credit cards by claiming I couldn’t just sit at home and live a boring life…

In the first half of my 30s, I started my own company, which was accompanied by a huge dip in income in its first year. I went from spending recklessly, to searching for pennies to feed myself, almost overnight.  I missed birthdays, baby showers, bachelorette parties, bridal showers, weddings, and other of my friends’ life milestones because I had no means to bring a gift, or even pay for parking/gas to get there.  I was so embarrassed by my financial situation that I would decline their invitations, citing I wasn’t feeling well (mentally, I wasn’t), or that I had work that needed to be done, because I was on a deadline (trying to make sure I could get paid in a timely manner). I looked back at my twenties and cursed myself for not having saved any money, yet also longed for the fun I had been having, which told me that if I had had the means, I would have kept on with my fast and carefree lifestyle.    It wasn’t until I was married (and subsequently divorced) in my mid-30s did all of that change, forcing me to face my “demons” head on, and change how I viewed/handled money.

When you throw yourself into a situation of having to take care of someone else because they, themselves, make very little, AND you’ve been surprised with a puppy (which I’ll admit, was the greatest surprise of all time); you’re forced to grow up.  I went from a carefree, crazy lifestyle; to almost being homeless; to making a modest income, while having to a support a “family”.

Being married puts a very different lens on how you live your life, as well as the choices you make.  Purchases I used to make independently now affected not just myself.  If I wanted a new top, I had to think about whether I was able to buy enough food for the week, for two people, and still afford it.  While I could go without a lot of food, my ex could not.  There were times it drove me crazy to not be able to even go to Forever 21 for a cheap t-shirt, but I also knew that there were long-standing lessons I needed to learn out of this, and that one day, it wouldn’t be so bad (or so I kept telling myself when I was home on Saturday nights).

To compound this, we moved to San Diego to start a new life together (as D.C. had left me with nothing but sub-par memories and a lifestyle I couldn’t afford), and it meant that my ex (who was a bartender by trade) had to search for work.  We had no idea how hard it would be to 1. Find him a job, because bartending positions were hard to come by; and 2. Find him a bartending position that actually paid decent (sometimes, he came home with $20 cash, since tips are split on a sliding scale).  This meant that rent, utilities, food, car payment, gas, puppy care, mounting debt payments, etc. all fell to me.  While it was the second most stressful financial situation I had ever been in, it was also one of the most gratifying and empowering.

While I had been keeping a spreadsheet of my expenses for years, I started to plan out an entire year’s worth of finances, assuming I was the only one making a solid income every month. I put us on a year-long plan to save as much as I could in case one of us (including the pup) had an emergency, and that meant making large sacrifices in the short term (i.e. never going out unless it was a day trip to the beach, or somewhere else that allowed us fresh air without costing us anything).  This included anything leftover from budgeted financial line items (i.e. we didn’t use all of our grocery or gas money), which would go into savings, as did the small amounts of cash he’d bring home from work.

Unfortunately, this belt tightening led to us moving on from each other, as he didn’t understand why we had to make financial sacrifices in the first place.  He didn’t seem to understand the realities of being on a modest salary, as he had always lived with his parents (he’s from Europe where family life is very different), and didn’t worry about much beyond any money he may have borrowed from them.  He found our situation to be too constrictive and thus, our chapter ended.  Sure, it was painful, but I also found solace in 1. Knowing I was only responsible for myself and my little furry son; and 2. Having a better understanding of what it meant to be financially free, while saving as much money as I possibly could.

In the last 2 1/2 years, since I moved back to D.C., I made good on my self-promise to save more and spend less.  Even while getting raises and bonuses, I opted to save that money, and invest it, so that I could focus on my bigger life picture (including having enough money in my bank account for six months worth of expenses, in case something happened to my job).  I got rid of my car (perks for living closer to the city), saving me almost $1000 a month, which also went into savings.  Before I knew it, seven months ago, I was able to buy a home with a small down payment, and still sock away enough money into some investment accounts and three different savings accounts.  Next year, my savings plan is even more aggressive.

You might be wondering, “Does she actually go out and have any fun, or even see the world?!”  From my other blog posts, you can see the answer to that 🙂  I am lucky to be in a great relationship, in which I’m able to share some of the household expenses, allowing for an increased “entertainment” budget.  Compared to most people’s going out in D.C. expenses though, it’s highly modest.  Below are some of my tips on budgeting and how you, too, can save for the future, while also being able to enjoy life too!

  • Consignment – You love to shop, especially luxury brand names (my weaknesses include shoes and handbags).  Go through your closet and pull out any items you aren’t using anymore, and consign them at your local consignment shop, or on a consignment site, such as Poshmark.  If they are luxury goods, head over to The Real Real and set up an account (best site for that), and opt for store credit when you consign. I allow my sales balance to grow before I purchase a new item on there so that the money I spend comes from the items I’ve sold – not a credit card, or additional cash from my bank account.
  • What to do with a raise – Treat it as though you never got it, and invest it! When I got a raise at work, I took that additional cash and threw it into a ROTH IRA (for now).  I don’t ever miss it, because it’s auto-debited on purpose!
  • You have extra money in your checking account from budgeted items that you didn’t end up purchasing – Throw that into a savings account!  Those cents/dollars add up quick!
  • Budget for a whole year – include EVERYTHING you think you will spend money on – this includes birthdays, weddings, engagement parties, hair, nails, makeup, food, weekly gas, vacations, etc.  Set a budget for each of these items, and be realistic, yet not too conservative.  You might spend $30 on someone’s birthday gift, but estimate $50.  You might spend $100 a month on getting your hair colored, but what if you need a haircut 3 months later? Did it also include tip?  Seeing a budget helps put in perspective your spending habits.
  • Plan for vacations a year in advance – Yes, I’m serious and no, you don’t need to pick a location right away, although it’s helpful!  We’re planning on a 10-day California adventure for November 2018, and we know we want the experience to be everything we want in a trip like this.  I put together a spreadsheet of our drive down the coast, which includes places to stay, the cost per night/person (including taxes), and the URLs so I don’t forget; things we want to see that cost money; the car rental, the one-way flights, etc.  We vowed to start saving January 1st so we wouldn’t have to worry about money on the trip. (Note: It’s also always wonderful to have things to look forward to, and if you get closer to your vacation date, and you can’t go, you’ll be amazed at how much money you have now saved!)
  • Become your own chef! I budget $200 every two weeks for food (for me), I buy food on Tuesdays, and meal prep for the week (I can’t make poor eating decisions/spend money on takeout when I’ve done this).  I’m not saying don’t eat out, I’m saying reduce how many times you eat out in a week – it adds up!  I go out to eat once a week, and I grocery shop on Tuesdays because that’s when all of the sales/deals come out – buying generic brands definitely helps too, as they oftentimes get deeper discounts.  Sounds old-ladyish, but I’ve actually saved anywhere from $20 – $40 by shopping on that day!  I then take that money, and put it into savings, or throw it towards another part of my budget.
  • Be realistic with your evenings out – I used to get major FOMO when I didn’t go out, but I paid for it dearly in credit card debt. Ubers/Lyfts and drinks ADD UP BIG TIME!  It’s one of the hardest habits to curb when you like to have a good time.  For me, I had to stop going out, little by little, allowing myself only a night a week.  While it sounds miserable, it has done wonders for my waist line, my mind, my sleep patterns, and my wallet.  I also find myself looking forward to those evenings more, knowing it’s my one night to enjoy myself. Still, if there’s a special event, such as a concert, musical, or a charity event I want to go to, I have to work through what I’m sacrificing to be able to go to it.  Usually, it’s one of my weekends, or something else in my budget I can live without. And yes, I have friends, which means it’s also a lot of pot luck dinners at each other’s homes!
  • Staying on fashion trends while not breaking the bank – I’ve learned that trendy clothes are rarely worth the pricey investment, yet I love to look my best.  For my staple items, such as jeans, coats, classic shoes, etc., I’ll spend money on those investment pieces, knowing I’ll have them for years.  For the trendier stuff, I have no shame in admitting I go to Forever 21 🙂
  • Reward yourself – Whether we want to admit it or not, we are a reward-based society. I’ve learned that there are milestones in my life that I want to be able to celebrate (no matter how small), and if I don’t have the means, it brings me down a bit.  Thus, I set aside part of my bonus, or even part of my tax return, for monthly rewards that allow me to feel like I’m not so restrictive.
  • Find ways to make a passive income – There are SO MANY WAYS to do this!  Back in the day, I took writing side gigs.  These days, I’m opting for honing my writing craft on evenings and weekends to publish my books, and sell my screenplays – something that will net more passive income in the future, than if I were to take on other writing projects in the short term. Find something you’re good at, and find a way to monetize it!
  • It’s okay to have a credit card (as long as you’re responsible) and if you do have one, make sure you get rewards!  I have a United card, which equates to MILES!  Every purchase I make, is on that card (which I review the expenditures daily to ensure I’ve not overspent on my budget).  Using this card for everything has allowed me to spend a total of $22 on two flights for next year (which would have totaled $800 otherwise), as I racked up enough miles using that card (responsibly).
  • My Amazon Prime account is worth every penny – From movie and music streaming services, to Kindle books, free shipping, Prime Pantry, and Prime days, I’ve saved A LOT of money on things that bring me daily joy.

Now for the first step, and for some real words of advice … none of this will even be possible if you don’t take stock of you and your life first.  I had to ask myself a lot of difficult questions to get here, and many a time, the truth was ugly.  I was spending to fill an emotional hole because I didn’t want to face some of my harsher realities.  When I was depressed with absolutely no self-confidence, I’d spend more to make myself look better.  When I was happy, I’d spend less, opting to save the dollars.  I had to take a look around to see if anyone noticed my shiny exterior, and as it turned out, it didn’t matter what wrapper you put around me, my dull light within was noticeable, far more than a pair of Louboutins.

If you’re one of those that is reading this, and feeling totally helpless because you are where I was 10 years ago, there is always HOPE and always TIME to change this part of your life around!  Start small – one week, go grocery shopping, and each time you have the urge to go out, take that money you would have spent, and put it towards your credit card, or throw it into a savings account, but DON’T SPEND IT! Otherwise, you’re not moving any closer towards your goals.

Or, for another perspective, take your net income, divide that by how many hours you work in a week, and ask yourself if that purchase is worth x hours of work?  For example, Sally wants a new pair of shoes that are $200, and would probably not be worn very much.  She calculates that it would take her four hours of work to afford them.  She realizes she’d rather put that towards a much-needed night out, and leaves the shoe store.

Regardless of how you approach heading towards healthier habits, it’s an incremental process that (literally) pays off in the long run.  I hope that through this, I’ve at least inspired some of you to set yourselves up for better, freer future selves that will certainly be able to breathe a lot easier when you’re ready to retire, make that big purchase, or are able to proudly say you are no longer paycheck-to-paycheck.  And remember, if you HAVE to borrow, you SHOULDN’T spend!

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

Advice, Healthy & Beautiful, Style

Blocking Harmful Negative Energies With Elegance

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A few months ago, a girlfriend of mine in Seattle, had posted a picture of a futuristic-looking pyramid, and a question, “Which one speaks to you?”, along with a link to more of these pyramids.  Having no idea what they were, I flipped through all these beautiful, celestial-looking structures, amazed at their beauty.

What I came to find out later is that these pyramids server an extremely valuable purpose – their beauty is just a “byproduct”.

The website my girlfriend posted is http://litethelight.bigcartel.com and the pyramids are called “Orgone Energy Devices”.  The creator of these beautiful pieces, Michelle Hood, has been featured on Alanis Morissette’s blog (which I STRONGLY recommend you read), which gives a great interview on Michelle, how she got into making these, as well as why these are so important.

So what does an Orgone Energy Device do?  According to the card that came with mine, “The materials they are made out of amplify and restore harmonic balance.  They function as self-driven continuously-operative, highly efficient DOR – POR (negative to positive) energy transmutation generators.”  What does that mean… possible experiences include:

  1. Turns negative energy into positive energy
  2. Mitigates harmful effects of EMF
  3. Strengthens Nature’s own ability to prosper
  4. Awakens psychic senses
  5. Purifies the atmosphere, detoxifies water
  6. Deepens sleep state

If I sound crazy, note that this pyramid really works.  Out of this list, #’s 1, 2, 5, and 6 have all been true.  How do I know?  Because the last place I lived in I was getting migraines, the air felt stale, I was tired all the time, and I always had trouble sleeping.  In my new home, I’ve been happier, more energetic, I’ve been sleeping better, and I’m no longer getting headaches.  In fact, this pyramid works so well that if I put my cell near it, it cuts off my call and/or decreases my signal, including wi-fi.  While that seems concerning, this pyramid is in my office and everything still operates just fine – it just proves that it’s blocking the majority of EMF, which is so important!

According to Michelle (yes, she reached out to personally thank me for my purchase), the experience is different for everyone and, I managed to snag the only one of its kind.

The materials used to make mine: Celestite, Black Tourmaline, Optical Calcite, Metatron’s Cube Disk, mSL, Blue – this combination is used to enhance meditative practices, clear negative energy, purify the air, strengthen mental abilities, promote calm, deepen sleep, and awaken psychic abilities.

Note that Michelle makes different ones for different needs.  They come in three sizes and when you purchase, you should take into account how big your home is and what room this will go in.  You should also take stock of what you want to improve in your life, while selecting one, since different stones have different functions.

This was my very first purchase for my new home, and I’m so glad that it was.  It is absolutely worth the investment!

 

 

Advice, Healthy & Beautiful, Style

How Many Hundreds of Miles Have We Walked In This World?

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I’ve owned many pairs of athletic footwear.  I’ve owned cheerleading sneakers that helped to win first place awards at local competitions; I’ve owned dance sneakers that have taken me to Nationals and gotten me on my University dance team; I’ve owned running shoes that went on great morning runs with me, along San Diego Bay; and the list goes on. All of these have shared in great stories and great times, and all of them were easy to part with. It’s why I found it so surprising that this blue pair is still hard to let go of, despite the holes that are starting to appear, the lumps that are making them uncomfortable to wear, and the new pair (on the right) that I desperately need to start wearing.

Anyone that loves to be active, knows that a great pair of sneakers is one of the best investments you can make.  Three years ago, I was given a Nike gift card from my company and it came at a great time, as I was shopping for a new pair and going through a difficult time.  When these arrived, I was in love – the color was happy and it was instant magic the minute I put them on.  They instantly became my best friends.

If these sneakers could talk, they’d tell you of the move we did to San Diego (again), the miles and miles run/walked along the beach and bay, during sunrises, sunsets, and many weekends.  It would tell you of the hikes in Laurel Canyon, the miles on the treadmill during a breakup, and the move we did back to D.C. a year later.  But what made this “relationship” truly special were the travels we took to Canada, Sundance, Malta, Italy, Turkey, Italy (especially our hike on Mt. Etna), Mexico, India, Iceland, and all over the U.S.  The minute we were together, the stress melted away and the adventures began.  It’s hard to believe I have to start over with a brand new pair.

So why share this odd news with the world?  Motivation.

Some people think that working out requires a gym membership, or even a gym.  Others think working out is a chore.  But really, putting on sneakers and going for a walk in your neighborhood, or finding a great little path in a new place, or taking them with you on vacation, and spending time outside with fresh air; is just as great of a workout!  A pair of sneakers (in a fun color) will take you places all over the world and the best part, it’s cheaper than those gyms you hate to join, as well as future health bills (physical and mental) that you don’t want.  They’ll become your best friend through bad times and good.  And before you know it, you’ll be posting similar things on your own pages when it’s time to turn them in for a new pair.

Never really bought a good pair before?  Here are some tips:

  1. Yes, they an be expensive – know where to go!  Nike does great half-yearly sales but if that’s not an option, look at Nordstrom Rack or any other discount store.  My new ones were $50!
  2. Try them on in person!  Every person’s foot is different and requires a different type of sneaker.  Put them on, step on the ball of your foot, roll back your heel, and see if they bend with your foot in the right way.  The wrong pair will feel odd.
  3. Arch type: Higher arches require higher, more flexible support.  Flatter arches require a flatter, stronger support.  I have a mid-arch, which needs a flexible shoe. To check both, the insole will have better curves and the sole will be bendable.
  4. It should be breathable and light: It doesn’t matter if you’re running, cross training, or just walking.  Sneakers should not be heavy and should be able to breathe.  Nike makes a lot of great, light-weight sneakers that will offer full support but not weigh down your ankles and knees.
  5. They come in fun colors for a reason!  Bright colors not only draw the eye, but also create just enough serotonin to begin boosting endorphins (which of course, are multiplied immensely when you’re working out).

While I’m sad to see my old pair go, I’m excited to see where this new pair will take me and what we’ll experience together.  I’ve already got some great plans for us, so stay tuned!

 

 

Advice, Healthy & Beautiful

What a Pet’s Death Teaches Us

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On January 2nd, my family and I had to say goodbye to the single greatest family member to ever come into our family.  They say losing a pet is 10 times harder than losing a human family member but you really have no idea until it happens to you. You also have no idea what unconditional love means, until you have been loved by a pet.

Roxy was born on October 12, 2001.  She outlived her parents and all eight of her siblings.  She was one tough pup, causing us to believe she was part cat, due to the “expenditure” of lives over the years (giving her humans more than a few heart attacks).

I remember the day we picked her up from the breeder.  There were nine puppies in her litter – all of them with different little personalities.  Some were huskier-looking labs, some were more playful, some were vocal, some looked sad and sleepy, and others were just curious.  Then there was the perfect one, currently asleep in a teenage girl’s arms with a sweet face,  and large floppy ears. I knew immediately that was going to be the family dog.  So when the girl put her down, I snatched her up and she became ours.

Roxy was a fast learner.  The first night we had her, we didn’t have a crate for her yet, so we piled blankets in a rather large Rubbermaid bin, and I slept on the couch, to make sure she didn’t wander off.  I’ll never forget the 3am swat on the face with a little paw, puppy breath burning through my nostrils,  this sweet face, eager to get outside.  I put her leash on her, took her outside, she immediately “went”, and was then ready to go back in and go to sleep.  We learned quickly that she came housebroken at 2 1/2 months.

She’d learn so much else during her first six months, and we learned a lot too.  She overcame Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (Lyme’s Disease) at five months (first heart attack), she never liked fetch but loved chasing anything living out of the yard.  She loved swimming in pools, chasing humans in pools, stealing dinner off people’s plates when no one was looking (even eating a pan of cookies, fresh out of the oven), car rides, dog park visits, and naps in front of the fire.

When she was three, she moved with me to Seattle.  We both learned to love the outdoors.  She would jump in the Wenatchee River or Lake Wenatchee and decide swimming downstream and/or chasing boats at a rapid pace (heart attacks 2-4) was the most fun she’d ever had.  Thankfully, there was always someone to pick her up and bring her back. 🙂

She also learned to “self-socialize”, as I loved to call it.  When I lived in Seattle, I dated someone whose parents lived in a little town called Cashmere.  When we’d visit them, it was there that Roxy realized no door, paging collar, or other device, meant to keep her on the property, mattered when it came to socializing with other neighboring dogs every morning, within a one-mile radius (heart attacks 5-20).  By year two of that, she also attempted several escapes through our SUV window when we’d get into the town (I’ve lost count on heart attacks).  She was a lab through and through.

It was through this time that I also learned she hated loud noises and although meant to be utilized as a duck hunter, hated gun shots, and could care less about the retrieval part.  In fact, she was 100% labrador, with no sign of retriever anywhere in her.

In 2006, my heart broke when I decided to move to San Diego, and could not find a rental that would allow dogs, especially ones of her size.  I made the hardest decision I ever had to make and flew her home to my dad and his wife, to live there – a place she was familiar with for the first three years.  She came back to them a more well-trained, sharper pup than they had remembered.

Throughout the next eight years, Roxy enjoyed grilled steaks, an automatic dog door that gave her instant access to the pool (and instant access back inside, dripping wet), jaunts with horses, boat rides, sleepovers with other labs she adored, and more road trips than anyone could count.

In 2014, her age started to show.  She had a tumor the size of a football inside of her spleen.  We were not prepared to let her go and the fighter in her said it wasn’t time.  When it was removed, the very next day she looked at us, as though we were all crazy for being freaked out.  Our problem wasn’t one of her longevity anymore, but of having to find a way to keep her from getting her stitches wet in the pool, and trying to run around the house at full speed. Still, at 91 human years, old age finally started to set in with a bit of degenerative hip disease, which caused a slowness to her movement.  Although she could feel it, she was determined not to let it slow her down.

In the final year of her life, at the age of 98 (far surpassing any of our other family members), her hips were frail and she was in pain intermittently.  It was heart breaking to watch her try to be mobile – you could see her brain was telling her she could do it, but her muscles had other ideas.  So, once we were through the holidays, we gave her, her last round of cooked steak and salmon, her last belly rub, and her last goodbye. She “went to sleep” right after the new year.

While I’ve been an emotional wreck, I reflect back on all that she’s taught me – lessons that I wouldn’t have learned well, had she not been in my life:

  1. Nothing is more important than experiencing unconditional love.
  2. My dad is right – animals have little souls that speak to you.
  3. They might not be able to talk (in human language), but they understand you just fine – they know when you’re upset, and they know when you’re happy.
  4. Happiness should be the only thing on your agenda. Ever.  Also naps.
  5. Never take things for granted – enjoy every moment of it – especially with someone else (human or otherwise).
  6. Pets have a calming presence.  They change so much about your personality.  There are reasons why they are used as therapy.
  7. Taking care of/being responsible for another living being is the most amazing/rewarding experience there is.
  8. You will never be as grossed out by bodily functions and dead animals again.
  9. You would die for your pet if you had to.
  10. You would spend your life savings on your pet if you had to.

Although I have had my own little dog for the last year and a half, Roxy will always have a huge place in my heart and in my soul.  I only hope that when she made it to heaven, there was someone there to show her to her swimming pool, tower of treats and salmon, and a nice, big belly rub.

My dad put a beautiful tribute together for her (click here to view).  I’ve also put together some of my favorite images of some of her favorite times.

I miss you Roxy girl.

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Advice, Healthy & Beautiful

Marrying for a Lifetime of Fun, Not a Sense of Security

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A few months ago, a viral post went out, by Heidi Priebe, that changed not only how vows should be written, but also how a married couple should spend their life together.

This post struck a chord with me because it hit on every point of what I always knew marriage should be – a best friendship, in which two people grow TOGETHER to take on the world.

All too often, people get married for the wrong reasons.  It could be that it financially makes sense for security purposes; or you both have been together for years and “it’s time”; or that you just don’t want to be alone.  But what goes missing with these reasons is whether or not your life goals/wants will match your partner’s in the long run. And where it starts is the ability to look inside yourself, pull out your deepest desires, and stick to them.  Being honest with yourself is only going to allow you to be honest with others.  The more you can answer to your own wants and needs, the more you open yourself up to a partner who feels the same way.

So many people are terrified of being alone but what is more terrifying than that is FEELING alone in a BAD relationship (we’ve all been there).  I’ve written so many meditation posts on how to be the best you that you can be – to be comfortable being alone, and happy/excited about the prospect of the right person coming along, but not NEEDING someone else to make you feel a certain way.  Priebe’s post is proof positive that she isn’t willing to settle for someone in order to fulfill a desire that she could certainly provide for herself – what she wants is a best friend to challenge her in life, to make her bolder, brighter, and better than she’s ever been.  THIS is what marriage is about, and no one should settle for anything less.

I know some of you are now commenting to yourself on how hard it is to find someone where you live.  Break the boundaries on it – there are billions of people in this world and the right one might not be living close to where you do. I once saw this movie on Netflix called TiMER.  It’s a fictional romance/comedy on people who have a pheromone device implanted into their arm, and when two people are a match, the timer on their wrist goes off, alarming them to when they will meet their soul mate.  It made me think about the fact that there is someone out there for everyone – the beauty is, they could be anywhere/anyone in the world, it’s just about timing.

So go out there, enjoy your life for yourself, print out those vows and use them as a checklist for life. Remember that you don’t NEED someone to make your life better, WANT someone that will make YOU better.

Advice, Fun, Healthy & Beautiful, Travel, United States

The Practice of Being Present Brings Abundant Joy

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This past weekend was probably one of my favorites of the whole summer.  Everyone had returned from their travels across the world, refreshed and ready to toast to the last few weeks of the summer before the nip in the air becomes a reality.

What made it so amazing was how present everyone was in the moment.  There was no drama, no rowdiness, no excessiveness – just peaceful, happy human beings who completely appreciated who and what was around them.

One of my friends and I talked at length about being present, while boating on the Potomac.  Far too often we are clung to our mobile devices, needing on-demand information of any kind, tuning out the simpler things in life – this includes human connection to not just people but nature as well.  I explained that it’s a practice to put the device away, to be engaging in what surrounds you, and to not let any other thought enter your mind, other than the joy/euphoria you feel from where you are right now. It’s something that should be so simple, yet is so hard for many of us to do.  It’s rare to bring a group together, such as who I was surrounded with last weekend, that understands how to appreciate the simple things in life, yet knows how to make them richer through their energy, passion, and positive attitude.  It’s because of them that I am so thankful, lucky, and elated that I am home.

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Advice, Healthy & Beautiful

Stop Saying This… If You Are a Woman in the Workplace

Three businesswomen

One month ago, an article came out by the Independent Journal Review,  saying that former Google Exec, Ellen Petry Leanse, suggested that women omit the word “just” from their workplace vocabulary. She noticed that when it was being used in a sentence, such as, “I just wanted to check in on…”, it gave off a certain aura of needing permission for something, i.e. emitting a hint of submission.

Email

I decided to try omitting this (as well as empty apologies) from my vocabulary for one month and funny enough, it works.  I started with emails (as practice).  I wrote a common work email, utilizing the semi-professional/casual tone that has become the norm in most companies today.  When I reread it back, I deleted the word “just” anywhere I found it, and then re-read it again.  The tone changed from weak and slightly defensive, to professional and to-the-point.

In the short month I’ve done this, I have found to get more tasks accomplished, as my messages come across as clear asks for what I need, and less about sounding as though I’m tip-toeing around issues.

Conference Calls

The second step was conference calls.  More often than not, we don’t realize the fillers we use in conversations, particularly when we’re on point to speak about something we need to deliver.  I found that when I was conscious of my speech, and the vocabulary (and tone) I was using, I came across as more professional, on-point, and confident, because I wasn’t using some of these weaker words when I spoke.  This, of course, radiated outwards to my peers.  As a result, more work has gotten accomplished, and my confidence level has gone up.

Personal Life Spill-over

When I felt I had mastered my workplace vocabulary changes,  I decided to keep on going with this experiment and try this out with my personal interactions.  And sure enough, I found my interactions, both with networking and with personal friends, a lot more solid.  It brings about a level of confidence that one should radiate, resulting in higher levels of respect, admiration, and willingness to help.  Omitting that one little word can be the difference between an opportunity and a miss.  It can be the difference between a solid connection and a distant acquaintance.

I encourage each of you to take the month challenge, omit words, such as “sorry” and “just”, and see what it does for both your professional and personal lives.

Advice, Healthy & Beautiful

Women in the Workplace: Learning to Support Each Other

bullying

When I was in the security line for my flight back to DC last week, I overheard two women, who were clearly coworkers, talking about the incompetency of a third female, who couldn’t create a Powerpoint up to their standards.  They both complained about the need to redo her work, both agreeing she should just “know” how to do what they wanted, and that they shouldn’t have to provide direction, which they both weren’t sure if they should because it would just take more time.  They then went on to attack the type of person she is, saying she will never get anywhere in the workplace because she just isn’t living up to their standards.

In listening to this dialogue, I felt really bad for the girl, who had no idea her work (and her character) were being torn apart by two impatient women, who clearly think how they do things is everything and how others do it, simply is incorrect.  It took everything to hold me back from asking both of them if they had ever made mistakes in their lives, and how had they wished it was handled?  And that, perhaps, they work together to help improve this poor girl’s skill set, as they will look even more successful for taking the lead on doing a great job managing.

All too often, I see a lot of negative workplace behaviors that can make a woman feel a lot less than she actually is.  Given the emphasis on women’s rights to equal pay, as well as treatment, we women are not doing as great of a job promoting positive reinforcement, that is so desperately needed, in so many competitive industries today.  Taking even 10 minutes out of your day, can do someone a world of good.

When I worked at Booz Allen, I volunteered on my lunch hour to help women, transitioning out of alternative housing, into Administrative careers, by way of teaching basic Microsoft Word and PowerPoint to them.  A simple “Great job” made their day when they learned how to cut and paste.  Complimenting them on their borrowed “business attire” made them feel more official   and I could tell their “can do”, confident attitude was at an all-time high.  We forget that we women, already in the workforce, are in privileged positions, to help those who can learn what we know.  It’s not a individual competition, it’s a team marathon.

Below are the top two negative workplace behaviors I see, and how we women can help quickly turn these into positives.

Negative Behavior #1: When we criticize someone’s work behind their back but do not offer direct, constructive criticism to them at the point of issue, we hold in resentment.  When we hold in resentment, it builds up.  When it builds up, we explode.  This causes the person, who has no idea what they’ve done, to be incredibly confused, trying to defend the work they’ve done, as they just do not understand what they’ve done wrong.

How to turn this into a positive: First, ask yourself if what the person did wrong is just a personal preference in style, or if they are missing the mark in terms of overall business/industry culture.  If it’s the latter, sit down with the person and explain what could be done differently, or how the project would usually be done, from a business/industry culture point of view.  If it’s the first, you need to ask yourself if this is related to personal preference of the individual or if imparting your skill set knowledge will really help the person.  If it’s the latter, spend the time to help them grow.  It’s a win-win – they grow and you exhibit model management behavior.

Negative Behavior #2: Chronic complaining about the person’s work, using “You always..”, “You never…”, “You are…”.  The problem with these statements are 1. You’re pointing fingers, which no one likes and 2. Complaining eventually falls on deaf ears.  It does not make anyone want to change their behaviors or attempt to want to grow and be better.

How to turn this into a positive: First, use “I feel (insert the emotion) when you do (insert the action).”  It shifts the focus from making it all about the person who is irritating you, to sharing blame (so-to-speak).  Second, complaining does nothing in the scheme of things.  Offer a solution for the issue.  Can you help fix it?  What are some options to help the person grow?  Finally, hold them accountable to work through it.  Is there a certain timeline you can provide, so that you and they can track their success?

It doesn’t matter how fast-paced your day is, how much you have on your plate, or even just personal preference on an individual – constructive, timely criticism is the difference between women rising as equals, and women still being suppressed into less than what we can be.  It starts with each of us, supporting and building each other up, to help bring out the very best in each of us.  The more we can strengthen and promote positive workplace behaviors, the more we will succeed.

Advice, Fun, Healthy & Beautiful, Travel

What My Summer Vacation Will Teach Me

In just a few days, I’m embarking upon a two-week vacation through Europe.  It’s a much-needed trip that I’ve been anticipating for months.  I’m an explorer, a history nerd, and a lover of architecture so of course, that side is covered.  But what I’m most excited for is enjoying every minute of the present, each day I am away from everyday life.

There was a moment this past weekend where I felt myself getting caught up in a situation that could easily not have involved me.  As I’m sitting there, trying to figure out if this was going to ruin my night, and should I quit while I’m ahead, I told myself to enjoy the present for what it is: being around fun friends who I truly love being around.  Their problems are their problems – just do you.  It was a powerful moment that made me realize so few people have this small, yet profound conversation with themselves, and I need to take advantage of it more often.  To release yourself from external influences and be present is the most freeing thing you can do.

Later this same weekend, I came across a rather popular Facebook post about that Italian teacher’s “Summer Assignment”. It took the guess work out of how anyone and everyone should live their summer, regardless of what they do or where they are.  Haven’t read it?  Here’s the list of “to-do’s”:

1. Sometimes, in the morning, go take a walk along the seashore completely alone: look at the way sunlight is reflected on the water and think about the things you love the most in your life; be happy.

2. Try to use some of the new words we learned together this year: the more things you manage to say, the more things you’ll manage to think; and the more things you think, the freer you’ll be.

3. Read as much as you possibly can. But not because you have to. Read because summers inspire adventures and dreams, and when you read you’ll feel like swallows in flight. Read because it’s the best form of rebellion you have (for advice on what to read, come see me).

4. Avoid things, situations and people who make you feel negative or empty: seek out stimulating situations and the companionship of friends who enrich you, who understand you and appreciate you for who you are.

5. If you feel sad or afraid, don’t worry: summer, like every marvelous thing in life, can throw the soul into confusion. Try keeping a diary as a way to talk about how you feel (in September, if you’d like, we’ll read it together).

6. Dance, shamelessly. On a dance floor near your house, or alone in your room. Summer is dance, and it’s foolish not to take part.

7. At least once, watch the sunrise. Stay silent and breathe. Close your eyes, be thankful.

8. Play a lot of sports.

9. If you meet someone you find enchanting, tell him or her as sincerely and gracefully as you can. It doesn’t matter if she or he doesn’t understand. If they don’t, she or he wasn’t meant to be; otherwise, summer 2015 will be a golden time together (if this doesn’t work out, go back to point number 8).

10. Review your notes from our class: Compare the things we read and learned to the things that happen to you.

11. Be as happy as sunlight, as untamable as the sea.

12. Don’t swear. Always be well-mannered and kind.

13. Watch films with heartbreaking dialogue (in English if you can), in order to improve your language skills and your ability to dream. Don’t let the movie end with the final credits: live it again while you’re living and experiencing your summer.

14. In sparkling sunlight or hot summer nights, dream about how your life could and should be. During the summer, always do everything you can to avoid giving up, and everything you can to pursue your dream.

15. Be good.

What’s so great about this list is that it requires you to be unplugged, present, and appreciative of every moment you have of everyday.  His list has inspired me to get up early, watch the sunrise from the sea, meditate, and give thanks to what I’ve been given in my life.  It’s a chance for me to be inspired all over again.

Trips of a lifetime don’t come very often (although I’ve set a goal to take one, once a year), but through my travels, I’ve discovered more about who I am and what I want out of my own life.  It’s a powerful, freeing feeling to be present with yourself and with those you love.  It’s even more powerful to expand your mind and develop it into who you really want to be.

Here’s to a summer filled with wonderful memories, lots of sunshine, and lots of love!

Advice, Healthy & Beautiful

Following a Dream, Getting Over a Fear

After 6 months, I decided to resume my novel writing last night.  The inspiration kicked in when I watched the following video from Heather Allison:

If you don’t have time to watch it, she blatantly tells you f*** fear.  Fear is what stands in the way of us accomplishing some of the biggest things in our lives.  She is absolutely right.  For me, that fear was not finding the time to write, or feeling as though I wasn’t ever going to be good enough to be a published author, so what’s the point?

As internal conflict goes, there was a loud voice inside of me, telling me that I had to get the story out of me.  Published or not, it needed to happen and then from there, I could make the decision to send to an Editor, and then to a Publisher.  And so, after this video,I sat down and wrote.  I only planned on one hour and instead, I wrote for three.  The words just came to me and I’m now proud to say I’m one Prologue and three chapters in.

As I shut my laptop down for the night, I reflected back on this video and what I just accomplished.  It led me to wonder what other strong urges are inside of me that I’m ignoring.  It turns out, I ignore a lot of stuff. I have a dream to live and work in Europe, to travel the world and explore, to love someone with my whole heart, and to be a full-time writer – novel or screenwriter, or both!  They seem like huge dreams but take a look at those that have accomplished exactly what I want to do.  It is possible!

So, in the meantime, I’ve decided to start small.  Each day, asking myself what I’ve done to contribute to my dreams.  Before I know it, I will be accomplishing them!