I saw Jeff Goins live in an academy at World Domination Summit, and he gave out copies of Real Artists Don’t Starve to all of the attendees. The list price of the hardcover was almost as much as the ticket price for the academy, making this an act of radical generosity. Either that, or it was a savvy marketing tool, as the book includes a flyer for… wait, what?? What was I just saying? I just looked at the website for Goins’s Tribe Conference and when I saw the lineup of speakers, I sort of lost my mind. Some of my totally favorite writers and artists will be there. Ryan Holiday, Leo Babauta, Marsha Shandur, Jon Acuff, Jonathan Fields, Tsh Oxenreider, I have the worst case of FoMO ever right now. I’m cross-scheduled or I would definitely be finagling to go to this event. Anyway, I started out with a review of Real Artists Don’t Starve, and that’s no time to be distracted thinking of all the successful, prosperous artists whose work I enjoy so much.
One of the main points of this book is that we don’t make art to make money, we make money to make art. The Starving Artist rejects money with a passionate hostility. (In fact, this doesn’t apply only to artists, but to most people with a scarcity mindset). The Thriving Artist understands that money allows for the creation of larger-scale projects. Pause for a moment and think of your favorite musicians, actors, writers, cartoonists, and other artists whom you admire. If they’re financially successful, why are they still working? Obviously it’s because making their art is the most interesting thing they can possibly think of to do with their time. The money means better equipment, higher quality supplies, bigger venues, more elaborate costumes, better sound systems, and the ability to reach a larger audience. We’re fans. This is what we want from our most beloved artists, right? Then why would we deny it to ourselves? We have to accept that it’s fair to bring in money in proportion to the value that we put out in the world.
Art is love. This is why we’re transfixed by it. It’s an outpouring of talent and skill and passion that could never be duplicated by anyone else. It is well and just that the creators of masterpieces, those who have dedicated their lives to their art, should accept as much as we want to give them. For some reason, though, we hesitate to think of ourselves in this context. Oh, sure, my favorite musician should be rich so she can go on tour and come to my city. But me? Sell out? Never.
My husband is an aerospace engineer. We’ve learned from each other that engineering and writing have everything in common: the continual urge to create, the equal need to edit and edit again, the frustration of hovering right at the edge of an insight and having no idea exactly when the missing thought wave will arrive. There are two differences. One, engineers actively seek out extremely critical peer review. Two, nobody ever asks an engineer to do anything for free. We’re pretty sure it never even crosses people’s minds. “Will you design this motor drive for me? It would be good exposure!”
Why isn’t it absurd to ask artists to work for free? Why?
Real Artists Don’t Starve. This is a terrific book by a man who knows whereof he speaks. If he gets his way, we’ll all start respecting our own work, thereby bringing dignity to the profession of working artist. I can’t recommend it enough. Now I need to go back to fantasizing about being at the Tribe Conference… sigh…
Being in debt drives me crazy. I never stop thinking about it. It’s the major motivator for me in earning money, in the same way that a trapped animal will chew its own foot off to get free. Anything, anything. I paid off the last of my consumer debt over a decade ago, and the interest rate on my remaining student loan is so low that it doesn’t really make fiscal sense to pay it off early. It’s a psychological thing. Debt is a shackle around my ankle and I’ll file it off with anything I can find.
The other night, I decided it was time to pay off the smaller chunk of my student loan. There’s a subsidized part and an unsubsidized part, and the latter is only about 7% of the total. I thought I’d just nuke it. As it turns out, the debt is structured so that I have to pay off the entire thing. I’m not allowed to pay off the smaller part early! It’s one of the million bajillion little tricks that lenders set up to bilk us of as much interest as possible. This is exactly the kind of thing that enrages me and incites me to ramp up my efforts. I WILL be free! I WILL saw off this shackle! Even if all I have is a nail file!
Most people’s reaction to debt is to wince and ignore it. People hate talking about money. Nobody I have ever worked with actually has a balance sheet or knows exactly how much they owe. Usually they don’t even know their net take-home pay; they seem to operate on a vague sense that they can actually spend their gross. Plus a little extra, because things happen. The two biggest areas of procrastination across the board are planning for the future (read: money) and taking care of health issues (read: planning for the future). If it came down to a contest between heavy-duty weight training and going on a debt-burndown program, most people would… well, most people would probably start Googling “fake own demise” or try to enter the witness protection program.
This is sad, because becoming physically stronger and becoming financially secure are both tremendously powerful, satisfying feelings. We so severely underestimate how great these states would feel. I know, because I’ve done both.
I think the major reason that most people don’t go out and chase down better-paying jobs or launch their own side gigs is because they’re so discouraged by having a boss. Well, a bad boss - research shows that about two-thirds of managers are ineffective. It’s hard working for someone who is bad at their job, someone who is a bully or a bad listener or arrogant or afraid of confrontation or who has double standards. This doesn’t even address the frustrating coworkers and the let’s-not-go-there customers. It’s other people who make our jobs hard. Or at least it feels that way when we believe we have no power over our situation. And we feel like we have no power when we’re weak in the wallet. We think we need this job, this particular job, and that we have no other choice.
Most of us hate only one thing more than updating our resumes, and that’s going to a job interview.
Shouldn’t we hate the feeling of being broke even more?
When I still had debt, I laid it all out on a spreadsheet. I looked at it at least once a day. I was like Arya Stark, memorizing her list of names. I updated my balances every day. I estimated how long it would take me to pay off the next name on my hit list. I used to have a Perkins Loan, and I visualized it as a man, an odious man named Perkins. (Unfair to the real Perkins, I’m sure, but it worked for me at the time). He was a sniveling pencilneck who constantly shoved his glasses up his narrow nose and he spoke in a nasally voice. Every time I would make an extra payment, I’d punch the air and go: “Take that, Perkins!” When I paid off the entire balance six years early, I got a thank-you letter saying that now those funds could be made available to another student just like me. Which was nice, and also made me feel a little bad for my mean visualization games.
I’m not even going to share all the various things I muttered to myself about The Banks when I was paying off my credit card balances.
I had, I think, six personal debts, two credit cards, a car loan, and three separate student loans. It all added up to something like $34,000. Since I was making about $29k at the time, it felt pretty daunting! I’m a fighter, though. Anything that knocks me down just makes me mad. I used what could have been hopelessness, anxiety, or dread, and I turned it into a white-knuckled fury. I would not be a slave to interest payments, fines, and fees. I would be a FREE ELF! I made it my ambition to get every raise, promotion, and side opportunity I could find and turn it into silver bullets that I then fired at the monstrosity that was my debt.
I did get promotions and raises. I did pay off those debts, one by one, until all that was left standing was that last student loan. I moved from my rented room to my own apartment to my own little mini-house. I bought myself new furniture and I took myself on my first real vacation.
Along the way, my work buddy turned friend turned boyfriend started to get more and more interested in what I was doing. Only a few months after I moved into my mini-house, he proposed. I was the princess who saved herself, and that’s how I got my prince.
A whole lot of mixed metaphors in this story, but I told myself a lot of different stories over the years as I fought this grim, lonely battle. Little office temp versus mass global economic forces. Or, I guess, an elf-princess who fires silver bullets at debt-werewolves? Certainly that feels better than seeing myself as an animal gnawing off its own paw. Strength rather than desperation.
What they never tell us is that power is not given, it’s taken. Initiative and agency come from within. The decision to make your own plans and build your own financial security is something that you decide for yourself. Nobody can take it from you. Nobody will even try, not really, not unless you go around to all your naysayers and start telling them your plans… The important thing is only to ask for advice from people who demonstrably know what they’re doing. Most of our friends, acquaintances, and colleagues probably don’t.
Things change when you have money. There’s a big difference between walking into an interview with shaking hands because you NEED this job, and sauntering in knowing that you’d be doing them a huge favor by taking this job. The last time I went on an interview, they asked if there was anything else I wanted to say. I said, “It would be a good idea for you to hire me.” Fifteen minutes later, they called and offered me the position. That’s the confidence that comes from financial security.
The shackle I wear right now is really more of a length of twine. I could have taken it off some time ago. I no longer have the unstoppable, vein-pulsing intensity toward it that I did a decade ago, when I felt that the vastness of my debt was like a swallowing sea, undertow dragging me into an abyss. It’s just a little thing now. I’ll shake it loose with barely a pause in my stride.
This book is definitely for you if you read the full title and feel a little ping of intrigue. How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up. Emilie Wapnick gets it. The person who has one dream job, gets hired, and then does nothing else for an entire career is a rarity! (The only person I know who ever fit that description worked as a programmer in the games industry, but then he was promoted to technical director, so that may not count anymore). Most of us are going to fumble around, feeling at least somewhat adrift and dissatisfied. How to Be Everything is a handbook for all of us who know we have far more to offer than could ever fit in one ordinary job.
Wapnick introduces the concept of the multipotentialite. This is a person with multiple interests. For instance, Steve Martin is an actor, comedian, and author. I personally would not want him to stop doing any of these things, or focus on one to the exclusion of others. I wouldn’t even want him to focus his writing on just plays, novels, memoirs, or anything else he chooses to write. While there is only one Steve Martin, alas, the world can certainly use more multipotentialites like him.
What I love about the book is, first, its embrace of people like myself who could never settle on just one thing. I’ve been called a flake and a procrastinator. Close friends greeted my plans with skepticism, until I learned never to announce a project until it’s complete. I was useless and bored as an office assistant, a job that will quite soon be automated away by artificial intelligence and software anyway. Right now, I’m a coach, organizer, writer, and entrepreneur, with (currently unpaid) side interests in illustration, public speaking, and comedy. In a few years I’ll probably be describing myself in a different way. I find it amusing that a significant part of my income derives from royalties and dividends, rather than regular checks, although I sure like those, too.
How to Be Everything is a manual for people who want to fit in more of their interests. There are several types of multipotentialites, each quite different, and the book includes profiles of many of them. We get windows into the ways other people have found to make a living around their various interests. I think I’m a Phoenix. [I’ve since changed my mind, or... have I???]. The book addresses issues common to creative types, like impostor syndrome, procrastination, burnout, and indecision. I highly recommend reading it right away.
I read this book and wrote this review before going to the World Domination Summit and taking Emilie’s academy. Now I love the book even more! That was one of the most highly charged rooms I’ve ever been in. Hundreds of us, chattering away, trading ideas, feeling like THIS IS A REAL THING. The most focused I’ve ever seen that many people was when we were directed to write a “master list” of all our interests. I have to say that meeting all these other multipotentialites and working through this material has changed my life and reorganized my brain. Thanks for that!
Going through an intensive learning experience with your spouse can result in some pretty interesting changes. This comes from new information, new perspectives, and the simple act of stepping away from your domestic routine for a week. Sometimes all it takes is to walk through your apartment door after some time away and realize that you’re ready to drop or add a habit. With something like the World Domination Summit, the changes can be radical indeed.
Last year, we went to WDS for the first time. On one hand was our shared experience. On the other hand was our shared decision that we would work together to become financially independent. Since then, we have sold our car and downsized to a tiny beach apartment, which means we’re currently a hair’s breadth from being completely debt-free. There were other major changes, but the relatively straightforward decision to focus on our finances wound up turning into a complete upending of our lifestyle. When we look back, it’s hard to remember how we ever wandered around without really attending to what is now such an obvious and important aspect of our marriage.
This year, one of our big takeaways was that it’s time to level up our fitness. We’re planning to shift from riding the bus and walking to riding our bikes. Since my husband’s job is six miles away, this could get interesting. I’ve been a bike commuter before, and it’s a very, very simple change. The point is that focusing on one specific area of life - money, fitness, communication - can be revolutionary. Usually the results tend to be unimaginable.
Our experience of WDS was different, and we realized that we were diverging more compared to last year’s experience. He has leaned more toward academies and meetups about communication and networking, which means he has met a lot more people than I have. He’s also had deeper conversations with them. It’s really cute to see how people light up when they see him. Meanwhile, I have leaned more toward informational stuff that has me typing notes at warp speed. Part of this has to do with our situations. He’s been in his dream career for decades, and he really has very little to learn about improving anything to do with work, productivity, sense of purpose, or increasing his income. I’m an empath, for whatever that’s worth, and I’ve flailed in areas where he is quite strong. It’s like we’re both doing a circuit in opposite directions and we’ll meet on the other side of the building. I’m excited to notice the changes in his communication style, and he’s intrigued with my upcoming (and secret) projects.
One takeaway we both had this year is that we have a lot to offer as teachers. I brought him in to do a section of my Curate Your Stuff meetup, and we were both pleased and surprised at the response to a topic he didn’t even realize he was going to introduce until he did it. (System 2 thinking and flow state). It felt easy and natural to share a speaking role. We’ve talked about it throughout the week, and there are a few topics we might do together, as well as things we would lead separately. Being in Toastmasters together has also led us to collaborate on our speaking skills, as we mentor and critique each other. That ability, that skill of constructive criticism in a professional manner, has its own ripple effect. We’re able to look at more of our plans objectively, taking in each other’s advice eagerly, feeling that it increases our regard for each other.
There’s a whole missing section here in my recap about all the machinations and projects that I have planned. Reason being, I made a firm commitment a few years ago not to share anything that’s still in the gestation stage. Anyone who wants to know what I’m up to can read it here on this blog, every business day at 9 AM. Unfinished projects and future plans? Those are for me. This has to do with my theory of building up The Steam, rather than dissipating it by talking about the project, rather than working on the project.
As a side note, I write about 10-20 pages a day 7 days a week, and about 4-7 pages of it shows up here in the blog 5 days a week.
When we meet other WDS attendees who have come back multiple years, we ask them what they’ve noticed has changed. They all, invariably, say that they’re here for the people and the community more than the content of the presentations. It starts to be more and more clear just why that is. The kindness, the instant connection, the curiosity and positivity, the way that people tend to excel at possibility thinking and brainstorming. The chasm between typical WDS behavior and crabby, uncivil civilian behavior. For instance, a guy moved out of his seat on our plane trip today, saying, “I don’t want to sit next to anyone.” Well, alrighty then… how heartbreaking that you would deprive us of the delight of your company… I am starting to think that some people think they are misanthropes or cynics simply due to the nature of their particular social circle.
This is the time when my husband and I start asking ourselves, “What do I want to get done by WDS next year?” It comes up quite a bit. It’s a surprisingly strong motivator. Level up and level up again. How is what we’ve learned going to show up in our behavior and our results?
Somehow I wound up tightrope walking. By “somehow,” I mean that I saw the slack line and immediately felt a magnetic attraction to it. I sat on it for a while, my body balanced three feet off the ground on a three inch wide fabric strap, surprised that I could balance quite well with my hands in the air. Then I took my shoes and socks off and climbed up. My cousin, who is quite tall, walked with me so I could hold his shoulder. I made it all thirty feet without falling off!
This is how I make decisions. I have a general policy of pursuing anything that interests me, with a brief pause to ask, “Is there any reason why I should not do this?” Why shouldn’t I walk a tightrope?
We were at the opening party for World Domination Summit. A band played on the stage at the Edgefield, and someone in a T Rex costume wandered around the grass dancing with people. I saw a hula hoop, and the sign that I was deeply involved in conversation is that I didn’t wind up inside it. I took my cousin over to meet Chris Guillebeau, who was as usual quite gracious, although think how busy he must be this week! We rode back on the shuttle, a school bus transformed into a wandering karaoke machine with everyone singing “Don’t Stop Believing.”
In the morning, I attended the Sparked academy by Jonathan Fields of the Good Life Project. I started following his podcast last year when I saw that he would be a keynote speaker at WDS. I love the way he listens so deeply and draws out these incredible conversations with fascinating people. The academy drew on material from his upcoming book. The central question is, How can we align who we are with what we do in the world when we don’t actually know who we are? When we know more about ourselves, we can find a way to contribute in our work in a way that makes even a disappointing job into a source of meaning and purpose.
Also, an attendee shared that she has a stand-up desk on wheels that she rolls out onto her deck. We were all suitably impressed.
Usual scurrying to get lunch, running into people, meeting new faces, trying to eat before running back in the same direction. I caught up with my husband, who had no plans all morning and spent the time as a flaneur, wandering around and chillaxing in a park. He has vacation face now.
In the afternoon, he went to an academy called Afford Anything while I went to one called How to Make a Living Writing, by Jeff Goins, Tim Grabo, and Joe Bunting. MIND OFFICIALLY BLOWN. I took twenty-three pages of notes. The main takeaway is that there are plenty of ways to make a solid living as a professional writer, none of which have anything to do with our romantic rockstar image. One example was the literary novel that made lifetime sales of $85, followed by the non-fiction writing manual that earned $30,000. Also compelling: the fact that six out of ten Pulitzer winners interviewed made their living from teaching, not writing. At the end, Jeff Goins announced that he was giving each of us a free, signed copy of his book Real Artists Don’t Starve. Note that the book’s list price is $24.99 and we paid $29 to attend the academy.
This is abundance mentality in action. These three prosperous, successful men showed up to teach hundreds of wannabe writers how to make money in their own field. Potential competitors! They know that many of us will look further into their offerings, buying their books or purchasing their online courses or promoting their work to others. It’s not about the ticket sales on that particular summer day in 2017, it’s about wordfame - and the simple desire to teach and share and help other people to succeed.
Comparing notes with my husband later, there are some predictable themes that come up when talking about money. (He never really experienced scarcity mindset around money; he says that even as a little boy in a trailer in a rural small town, he always figured you could just go out and get a job and earn as much as you wanted). In his academy, where the premise was that it’s possible to “Afford Anything,” a number of attendees gave pushback about buying lattes. It’s the avocado toast problem, right? “Oh, if you want to afford things you have to not waste your money on stupid stuff like that.” Even when presented with charts and percentages, certain people are unwilling to let go of their preconceived notions about how money works. My husband and I spend an absurd amount of money at Starbucks - but we also save 35% of our income and I own a few shares of Starbucks stock. I’m not going to apologize to anyone for it, because 1. I do what I want and 2. I like Howard Schultz’s continual attempts to improve conditions for his employees, such as setting up the college plan. Also, anyone who wants to nitpick my spending is going to need to step up with hard numbers and transparency about their own cash flow. I’ll go there with you; I don’t mind.
We started our day with a pound of fresh blueberries, which we had because we woke up at 6:00 AM and my husband went out to pick them in my parents’ yard while I was blow-drying my hair. He had a relaxed and casual day while sitting in a park, enjoying the warm summer weather. These highlights of our experience did not cost money. The point here is that there are plenty of billionaire moments available to everyone, and much of the time, rather than enjoy watching the sunset or smelling an actual rose, we sit around complaining about all the stuff we can’t afford. Or why other hypothetical people spend too much money on stuff. Meanwhile I’m walking around wearing my FREE HUGS t-shirt and collecting all the free hugs. So yeah.
I'm a one-bag traveler. This only really matters when I travel, which is four or five times most years. On a daily basis, though, having only one bag is the absolute essence of minimalism. A single daily bag becomes a reliable tool for consolidating the gear and information that are most important in daily life. A single bag is vital to the holy grail that is Being Organized.
This doesn't necessarily mean that I OWN only one bag. It means all my DAILY STUFF is in one bag.
I currently have one work bag, two daytime purses, three evening purses, and a beach tote. This is because I haven't gotten around to getting rid of the two purses that are getting shabby after ten or so years. To me, having extra bags leads to guaranteed confusion, lost objects, and late departures. No bag ever made is pretty enough, or even useful enough, to make up for unnecessary hassle and irritation.
For local trips, I often just put my wallet and keys in my pocket, like a man, if I actually have pockets, because women's fashion is a conspiracy.
Ideally, my purse and work bag would be one and the same. In practice, I need a larger bag two days a week, and I don't like lugging it around more than I must. It's like when the rocket boosters separate from the space shuttle.
Purse: Wallet, phone, keys. Pen. Sunglasses. Lip balm. Tissues. Hair tie. Coin purse.
Work bag: Backup battery, adapters, and headphones. I carry sunblock and deodorant because of the climate where I live, and a small vial of Aleve because I'm superstitious. Mini emergency toothbrush, a wet wipe, and a stain treatment pen. Protein bar, and emergency sandwich if I'm flying. Folding grocery bag. Sweater. This is the maximum amount of paranoia gear I carry in my work bag, in addition to my tablet and phone. The most important object in this cavernously large bag is the EXTRA SPACE it provides for me to run errands.
I timed myself transferring items between bags. It took 57.71 seconds.
My husband commutes via bus, and he carries a backpack. It has his laptop and charger, glasses case, sunglasses, wallet, keys, phone, backup batteries and adaptor, headphones, and pen. Today, it also had a notebook, textbooks, and calculator because he's studying for a new professional certification. The most important feature of his backpack is the EXTRA SPACE it has for his lunch or a stop at the grocery store on the way home. I just asked him, "You don't have any receipts or anything in there?" He shook his head no, casually, like if I asked him if he ever debated what color of socks to wear with his outfit.
Parents whose kids are still at home will probably be thinking, "Easy for you, but we have kids." I know this because parents use this reply in every possible situation. The truth is that people who travel in packs have even more reason to organize and streamline their daily stuff. If you don't like dealing with tears in the morning, assuredly, your kids don't either. Checking kids' school bags and resupplying diaper bags in the evening prevents a lot of frustration before it has a chance to derail your family life.
Now that we've done the exposition, the key to Single Bag Theory is the strategic loading and unloading of the bag. The bag is Command Central. Since I don't need my wallet, keys, or sunglasses inside my home, they just stay in the bag. I never have to look for them. I know where the bag is because I always put it in the same spot when I get home. If I need to take something somewhere, like outgoing mail, I put it directly into the bag. This way I don't need a container or flat surface or special furniture; our apartment is so tiny that we don't have a foyer or hallway or mudroom or any of that. If we didn't have a system for our daily bags, then we would have a nonfunctional kitchen with counters covered in junk. That's just an objective fact.
Unloading the bag means making decisions. What am I carrying at the end of the day that is not strictly necessary to my next trip out the front door? Generally it is groceries or sundries I bought, receipts, mail, extra paper napkins, and the occasional piece of trash or recycling. Most of us carry receipts more out of habit or concern about identity theft than because we actually DO anything with the receipts. I try to avoid having receipts printed out at the check stand whenever possible. I do categorize my expenses in my finance app, but I only save the receipts with split expenses. This means that if I went to a restaurant, clothing store, bookstore, or other place with only one category of expense, I don't need the receipt for my purposes. If it's something expensive like electronics, I'll save it until I'm sure the item works properly. Most of our mail is junk mail, and almost everything that's left is outer and inner envelopes, brochures, and other useless inserts. We pay our bills electronically. Process and shred or recycle. Most of my trash sorting happens while I'm waiting at bus stops. When I check the contents of my bag at the end of every day, it only takes a quick glance and a few seconds to pull out anything weird or silly. I'm weird and silly enough without giving myself chiropractic problems lugging extra junk on my neck.
My smartphone takes the place of many of the items I used to carry. I no longer need a bulky paper day planner or address book or notebook or calculator. I no longer have tons of scraps of notes, phone numbers with no name on them, shopping lists, directions, or map printouts. I've developed the habit of setting alarms and time- and location-based reminders, because otherwise I know the fallibility of my ADHD mind. I need to be wondering about stuff like whether crows can be trained to pick up litter or whether there will ever be a wall-climbing scrubbing robot, not whether I've forgotten to order parrot kibble or where I put my keys. That's the point of all this, the point of Being Organized. We have more important things to do and more interesting things to think about than our daily stuff.
Having only a single bag has a magical way of making us more organized. Suddenly we know where our keys, phone, and glasses are. Suddenly we know where to look for our little scraps of notes. We start to be less late, and finally on time for things, because we can just sling the bag over one shoulder and go straight out the door. All the little rays of wandering attention we have aimed all over the place start to merge into a thick beam of focus. Having one bag can help us both look better and feel smarter, and what a magical bag that is!
This is my second tax nightmare in 18 years. Why they choose me, I don't know.
The first time, someone else's income was reported under my social security number, and I got a tax bill representing about half my annual income. I only found out about it after my ex-husband intercepted and opened the letter and withheld it from me until after the deadline for dispute had passed. The IRS agent who helped me was warm and friendly. Although this was someone else's mistake, it fell upon me to do the research and resolve the problem. File under: NOT MY FAULT, STILL MY PROBLEM. This involved tracking down the other person, a coworker, and convincing her to give me a copy of her W-2. It seems obvious that someone involved in the payroll process at my office had made the mistake; otherwise, we would be looking at one of the most outrageous coincidences of all time. Could someone somewhere just vaguely, passively say that A Mistake Had Been Made and apologize to me for my inconvenience? Heavens no.
There are two things we can never expect in this life: gratitude for the good we've done, and apologies for the mistakes that other people have made.
Now I'm sitting in the City of Los Angeles Office of Finance. They've summoned me to a hearing for supposedly not paying municipal business taxes. This despite the fact that I have not lived within a City of Los Angeles zip code since 2015. The summons was even addressed to me at my previous non-LA address.
This is the fourth calendar year that we have been having this dispute. I tried everything. I sent letters. I spoke to an agent on the phone. I sent copies of our tax return. I have told them over and over again that 1. The income they were after is actually my husband's salary, not business income and 2. We don't live in LA.
Their response was to send a tax bill for slightly over $8000. Weirdly, it's almost the exact same amount I was mistakenly assessed by the federal government back in 1999. I got that cleared up, or so I thought, and then several months later I get this summons.
I guess it's my karma that maybe I robbed someone of $8000 in a past life? Or maybe I was a cruel tax collector? Who knows.
What I WANT from this transaction is:
For someone to take accountability and say, "This was our fault, not yours."
Compensation for my time
A letter absolving me from further bureaucratic transactions with this department
Some kind of goodie like a free bus pass
What I NEED from this transaction is:
Resolution of the issue
Some kind of notation in my account or in whatever database or mailing list
Knowledge of what to do if anything like this happens again
My INSTINCT is to:
Yell at someone
Tell the entire saga from start to finish
Call my mayor
Alert the media
Cry (actually I did that the day after I got the letter)
What I actually do is to use my carefully honed skills in navigating bureaucratic red tape. I use tact and civility. Guess what? My case is resolved half an hour after I walk in the door. I didn't get an apology or compensation or any of those feeble fantasies. What I did get was the most genial, easy-going guy on the staff, who listened carefully, closed my account, and gave me photocopies of his stamped paperwork for my file.
How is this done?
There's an art to doing these things smoothly, and as far as I can tell, not everyone is aware of it. I have seen people shouting so loudly that they could clearly be heard through the entire building, or pounding their fist on the counter. The only thing you get when you act that way is a conversation with a security guard. Threats, intimidation, swearing, scowling, glaring, sarcasm, rudeness, cutting in line, interrupting, and gesticulating are tools for fools. They're only going to make things harder. You never know when you'll find yourself in the same office again, or facing the exact same person in a different job.
The person I'm talking to is almost certainly not the person who made the mistake on my account. This person is my ally. We want the same thing. We both want a simple transaction in which I go away quickly with a smile on my face. His goal is to do his job and make it to the end of the day without someone shouting at him. My goal is to be the friendliest transaction of his week. This person, whoever it is, is much more likely to listen to me and believe me if I am rational, respectful, and deferential. I walk up smiling, dressed professionally, and I make sure to wait my turn before speaking.
Always start with the assumption that the miscommunication has been on your end. Maybe I walked in the wrong door, didn't read a sign, or unknowingly shuffled a vital piece of correspondence into a wad of coupons that I then recycled. I start from the position of empathy, imagining that I am on the other side of the desk, forced to deal with this uptight, nervous wreck of a middle-aged crazy birdwatcher lady before lunch. I've been a civil servant and I've worked in customer service, so this trick of empathy is easy. I want to be my own ideal customer or client, the person I wouldn't mind helping.
The truth is that there is nothing complicated about my situation. It's routine on both sides. Any weeping or gnashing of teeth I have done has arisen from 1. My own anxiety 2. Projecting 3. Mind-reading (which doesn't work) and 4. Predicting the future (badly). I got all wound around the axle. I felt like THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS TO ME and WHAT WILL I DO NOW? and WHYYYYY MEEEEEE? I also felt that IT'S NOT FAIR and I WANT CAAAAAAAKE. It actually crossed my mind that I would have to see a judge or that someone would demand some kind of payment from me. I thought I would have to camp out in the office the entire day and come back again the following day, possibly through the entire week. Not a single thing that worried me came true. If I really want compensation, it should be for the time I spent flagellating myself and the sleep I lost tormenting myself with weird imaginary scenarios that never happened.
Gracious behavior always helps. When I listen courteously, I hear more details and everything makes more sense. When I wait patiently, I get better treatment. Everything goes faster when people wait their turn, including me. Most importantly, the self-discipline of controlling my irrational responses and NOT doing what comes naturally helps me to realize how rarely I ever need to escalate. Life is easier than we think it is, especially when we're not having a conniption.
PS On the way home, I found a dollar coin. So that's something.
Why is it that, as soon as the technology became available, so many of us started working around the clock? Between email and cell phones, 'evening' and 'weekend' barely exist anymore. Carson Tate wants to help us to Work Simply and reclaim our free time.
The first chapter introduces us to "The Myth of Time Management." It really isn't about doing everything more efficiently; we've all tried that by now. This is strategy. For instance, one of the most helpful ideas I found in the book was to get your manager to define what constitutes an 'emergency.' So much of "time management" is really about "manager management."
Tate provides a quiz that distinguishes four different types of organizers, and offers custom tips that will appeal to each type. This includes software, physical changes, and negotiating tips for the other types. I found myself identifying various people I know as one type or another. I'm a Visualizer and my husband is a Prioritizer. I suspect that a good chunk of chronically disorganized people like my clients are Arrangers, who have a greater need for social connection. Understanding the type of your boss is perhaps even more useful than understanding your own type.
Work Simply offers the suggestion to think of time as money. Calculate your hourly rate and then figure out how much fifteen minutes of your time is worth. In many situations, we would never give someone cash outright but we will squander our time, paying for it later with long days and late nights.
This book is a product of the modern corporate workplace. It deals frankly with problems like working so much your kids prefer the other parent, having a boss with no sense of priorities, or being too busy to use the restroom. Mastering these issues is the only way we can reclaim our time and mental bandwidth and find room to breathe again. In the words of Carson Tate, "Work simply to live fully."
Seven in ten Americans don't have a thousands dollars in savings. I keep seeing this figure in various personal finance articles. The way the poll was structured, it makes it hard to tell: did all of these people seriously not have $1000 to their name, or did they just not keep it specifically in a savings account? Either way, it's a question that is definitely worth exploring.
$1000 sounds like a fortune when you're broke and in debt. In an era when prices are what they are, it's actually attainable in a fairly short time period. A time will come when you will keep an extra $1000 in the bottom of your checking account and almost never give it a second thought.
$1000 is important because there is always going to be an "emergency" need for quick cash, and almost all people are going to go $1000 into debt by putting those expenses on their credit cards instead. That means you're paying interest on top of that grand, and over time, it will cost you significantly more.
Money isn't the money you think it is. Meaning, it hits you in several ways.
Your real hourly income. Take what you earn after taxes and other deductions. Then remove anything you spend purely because of that job, such as gas for your commute, bridge tolls, or clothing you wouldn't wear as a retiree. Like, you know, pants. Then divide by the true number of hours dedicated to your job, including your commute and breaks. The first time I did this, my real hourly wage was like $3.75. When you spend a dollar, you're spending a certain amount of life energy, as detailed in the book Your Money or Your Life.
Sales tax. Whatever you bought costs slightly more than you thought, especially if you pay for a disposable shopping bag.
Interest, fines, and fees. Add in the interest on your credit card, any late charges, foreign transaction fees, etc.
The price of your time spent shopping or handling transactions like booking tickets.
Price per square foot of the place you are storing stuff, whether your home or a storage unit.
Cost of fuel or shipping to transport items. Include parking fees and your trash bill for all that packaging.
To summarize, we carry a lot of maintenance expenses for both earning and spending money, and we don't generally connect them to the personal infrastructure of our working or shopping behaviors.
Okay, back to the $1000, a figure I will be repeating over and over again until it becomes a subliminal fixation in your mind.
$1000 can be carved out of daily expenses over a short timeframe, almost instantaneously for some people. Some methods are simple, others are radical and dramatic. $1000 can also be gained by selling items, or earned through a combination of side hustles or a job upgrade. Diving the amount into smaller chunks could mean we're trying to cut $300 from our expenses, sell $300 worth of stuff we don't need as much as we need emergency savings, $300 in income from side gigs, and that leaves just $100 we could try to get from a raise, bonus, promotion, or new and improved day job.
If you are serious about getting your finances in order and you have a storage unit or cable TV, your problem is solved. Get rid of them. That $1000 emergency savings buffer will magically appear within a few months. Ah, but I know nobody engages in that kind of tomfoolery but me. Why other people choose to spend their vacation money on television and a room of stuff they never use is beyond me, but hey. To each his own.
As an alternative, it's also pretty straightforward to cut $300 in utility bills, food, liquor, dining out, beauty treatments, and entertainment for most people. It turns out that people in every quintile of income distribution spend the same percentage of their income on entertainment! (If you're already so broke that you never spend extra money on those things, focus on getting training for a better job. You have internet access or you wouldn't be reading this, so your situation isn't hopeless). You might not be able to cut $300 in one month, but surely you can do it in six.
How do you come up with $300 from selling your stuff? It depends on what you have. Sometimes it can be done in one shot, by selling a game system or a redundant piece of electronics or a large piece of furniture. Many people who are renting a storage unit can get it by selling off everything in the unit, which is a double whammy because it also eliminates that expense. Used books and (possibly) textbooks. Collectibles. Musical instruments that aren't getting played. Fashionable clothes and accessories can go to a consignment shop. Items with the tags still on can sometimes still be returned. Coin jars can be cashed in, and so can gift cards. A lot of our consumer debt tends to come from buying stuff we couldn't really afford, which then fills up our homes. We can reverse this tide by selling some of it off and using the proceeds to build financial security.
How do you earn $300 in side hustles? Get thirty people to pay you ten bucks. Or get ten people to pay you thirty bucks. Or, get one person to pay you $300 or more. It depends on what you know how to do and how useful you are. I used to charge $10 to clean a bathroom when I was a college student, and if I needed ten bucks that bad, I always found a taker. If you have virtually no skills, you can still convince people to pay you small amounts of money for menial tasks like clearing junk or dog poop out of their yard or pet-sitting over the weekend. Once you make yourself available for odd jobs, word will get out, and people will sometimes approach you with offers you wouldn't have thought of. You don't have to do it forever; the goal is just to build up that $1000 savings cushion.
How do you round out that $1000 by earning an extra $100 at your day job? Even a ten-cent raise will achieve this over time. Honestly, though, if you're broke, it's time to think about a real career. What could you put up with doing for several years that would pay considerably better than what you earn now? After I graduated from college, I earned double the money doing what I considered the same type of work. The degree paid for itself in the first year. The more I've been paid, the easier the work has been and the less hard I have felt I had to work. We tend to talk ourselves out of the best ideas, having long lists of reasons why certain things won't work for us. All we need is one thing that WILL work and one reason TO do it.
A sneaky way to get that $1000 in savings together is to avoid ways of generating emergency expenses. For instance, don't get a speeding ticket or a DUI. Don't procrastinate on dental care. Don't put off repairs, especially car repairs or plumbing problems. A lot of crisis situations are the aftereffects of minor annoyances that were left to fester. This tends to happen when we're broke and feeling like we "can't afford" maintenance expenses. We never have time to do it right the first time, and we never have the money either.
Those of us known as "savers" may or may not have $1000 in a "savings account." We may keep it in checking. We may have it in a fireproof safe in the office. We may keep it in a money market account. We may be generating so much passive income from rentals, dividends, royalties, etc that we wouldn't bat an eye over a sudden $1000 expense. We may have many times that amount in our portfolios or retirement accounts. Sadly, though, the majority of us probably don't even realize that most of those savings vehicles exist. Broke we may be, but when we keep telling ourselves the story of broke-ness, it's hard to break free and stop being broke. An extra $1000 is a great place to start.
Nobody starts out knowing anything about money. We all start out as tiny little helpless babies, and if we've survived and become literate, then we did it in a world of astonishingly magnificent abundance. Adults gave us food even when all we gave them in exchange was bodily fluids. Adults gave us shelter even when we kept waking them up all night long. Adults clothed us even when we spat up on them. Adults carried us from place to place and taught us to speak. By the time we learned to read, we had already accrued years of debt from unearned altruism. Part of the job of being an adult creature, of any species, is to repay that debt to future generations, to help them survive in the way that we were helped to survive. We pass it on.
We contribute to the world in one way or another. If we're meerkats, we do that by taking our turn at sentinel duty. If we're ravens, we alert the flock to the presence of a moose carcass. If we're humans (which I assume you are, but if you are a literate non-human, please, by all means PM me), we contribute to the economy in some way. It is virtually impossible to step outside of that constraint. I would argue that it IS impossible to step outside the economy, because if you save up and buy property to live off grid, you just lost the game, and that's assuming you didn't bring any supplies or materials produced by anyone else. Anyway. Whether we think money is involved or not, whether we think a job is involved or not, we're in the game. The better we get at understanding the rules of the game, the better a job we can do in participating. A meerkat should be a good meerkat. A raven should be good at being a raven, which may be different from being a "good raven." A human should be a good human, and contributing to the world is part of that.
We start to think in terms of net contribution. Am I smiling at others as often as they smile at me? Am I listening at least as much as I am talking? Am I helping at least as much as I am being helped? Am I producing as much as I am consuming? Am I providing value or extracting it?
Money is simply an abstract way of exchanging energy. We can use it to buy goods or services from anyone in the world, helping them to provide for their families, which we can only do in person if we live near them. We can use it to support performing artists who can't possibly visit every area where their fans live. We can use money to help people in charitable ways that we couldn't do even if they were our neighbors, lacking the skills or physical abilities they might need. Money can help us to act like incredibly fast and loudly cawing ravens or incredibly tall meerkats, helping the rest of our flock or band even when we've never met them.
We start to think of money as a way to give back to the world. Money is a way to share. Money is a way to make other people's lives better, and our own. We start to think that work at our maximum capacity for contribution is a great gift we can give.
When we're working at a level lower than we know we can, we're taking up someone else's spot. Someone else who can, at least right now, do no better than the job that we currently have. We have to get out of their way. We have to advance and make room. We probably have no idea whatsoever how much we can really do, but we do at least know that we have more to offer than the current job is using. This is like the wolf bringing home a shrew for her cubs while the owl's owlets wait in vain. Animals do better at adulthood than we do. They wake up and go straight to work because their survival is on the line. Not just theirs, but the future of their species. They don't have snooze buttons. They also don't have debt.
It would be nice to think that most of our contribution to the world is not fundamentally economic in nature. This may be true for parents of young children. The rest of us have something to prove. Are we really spending the majority of our free time comforting the sorrowful and caring for the sick and elderly? Are we spending our spare time teaching adult literacy? I know I'm not. My contributions are limited to the occasional surreptitious sandwich handoff, my pro bono work, a check to the soup kitchen, or my monthly auto-payment for the student I'm sponsoring in Zambia. Oops. Economic contributions again. Must work on that. Alas. Even if I give my time, I'm making an economic contribution, because what I'm really giving is labor. There is no escape!
I like thinking of myself as a leader, a giver, a maker, and a builder. I have all kinds of practical skills and I will readily teach them whenever I am asked. Or sometimes when I am not asked! I love mentoring young people. I love pushing my close friends to chase their dreams and get their passion projects into reality. These are much nicer feelings than the feelings of helplessness and futility and despair I felt when I was broke and constantly in need of rides, meals, loans, and sometimes places to sleep. Now I can give what I used to need. I give because I feel the need to give. I feel an internal pressure that never relents. I also feel that money is merely one aspect of a fountain of energy that I can tap at will. It's a shortcut. It's a force multiplier. I can give money to far more causes and purposes than I can give of my personal presence and personal attention. The more I earn, the more I can share and give, and the more natural it feels to do so.
If I were a goose, I'd want to be a fast goose, so a slower or older goose could fly behind me in formation and feel less wind resistance. Animals cooperate for the greater good of their species all the time. All I can do as a human person is to work. I can do a lot for my family and close friends, but it's finite. I'm not called upon for all that much hair-stroking and hand-holding. What I can do by working is to provide value through my work, and then take the money I earn and use it to provide value again. It's not perfect, but it is a pretty interesting form of cooperation, in the context of what can be done by members of the animal kingdom. We are the money animals.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.