Do you ever feel like, New Year, another one?? Right now I’m looking at the turn of the year with equal parts relief and dread, glad we made it through some heavy weather but feeling like the next year will be more of the same. Some excellent things and some terrible things happened, sometimes at the same time, and in fact isn’t every year like that?
Sometimes life gives with one hand and takes away with the other. Example, our dog was given “six weeks to live” in November 2018, and he’s still here, but his liver tumor got bigger and he also has a mass in his lung. Another example, I had to get oral surgery, but those two teeth were saved. A friend of mine in a similar situation has to wait six toothless months before she can get an implant, so I guess I feel “lucky”? Further example, I had a cyst removed after a very scary and weird medical issue, when for a few hours I feared I actually might tip over and die. Surgery is not cute or fun but it is usually better than the alternative.
Crabby person: I spent a month on antibiotics, thought I might die, spent weeks dealing with medical, dental, and veterinary stuff alone because my husband was out of town, and had to get stitches twice!
Optimist: I survived with just a small scar, they managed to save both my teeth, insurance paid for almost all of it, and I got my stitches out before the New Year!
This is part of why I try so hard to focus on highlights and achievements at the end of the year. Otherwise it would be very, very easy to overlook them amid the chaos of daily life, that or fail to fit in any highlights at all. Here are a few.
Our dog Spike survived his predicted 2018 demise, a sweet bonus year
Won an election and became a Division Director in Toastmasters
Went to World Domination Summit
Visited London and Edinburgh for the first time
Sat in one of the cafes where Harry Potter originated
Moved to a new apartment that is actually quiet!
Went to the Canary Islands for our tenth wedding anniversary
Oh, BTW, we had a tenth wedding anniversary, 13 years together
Became a Distinguished Toastmaster
Noelle started saying ‘Okay’ (when she wants to go to bed)
Personal: My big personal goal for the year was to submit a book proposal to a publisher. If I had known what a total train wreck this year was going to be, I would have held off on declaring this and instead just said “Get through 2019 somehow mostly intact.” Nevertheless this goal is in progress. I finally feel like I can take myself seriously as a working writer.
Career: My career goal for 2019 was to become a Distinguished Toastmaster. I didn’t even know what that was when I first made my 2016 resolution to conquer my fear of public speaking. This has been one of the most emotionally challenging things I ever did, and I am really proud of myself. Not only did I get that DTM, something not even 1% of Toastmasters do, but I won an election as well. The last time I gave an impromptu speech, a couple weeks ago, someone told me that I “have a commanding presence up there.” Heh. Seriously, it’s hard to imagine someone being worse at something, and feeling more dread and dislike for it, and then having a greater transformation. If *I* could do *this* then I feel like anyone could do anything. Just push through the first six months.
Physical: My physical goal was to focus on hip openers, a type of stretching exercise. I kept reminding myself to get down on the floor and figure this out, and now it’s the New Year and I still haven’t done it. Overall I feel like my body is turning into a bruised fruit. I failed at this goal. I dropped out of my martial arts gym. I also gained weight, which feels exhausting and terrible and which I am hating beyond description. This year I feel like the only physical thing I did well was to not die.
Home: My home goal was to set up an outdoor writing area. That was at our old apartment, and it was great. We crushed this by relocating to a new place, where not only do I have an outdoor writing area, but it even has an ocean view. We’re finally in a place that doesn’t have carpet, we have a dishwasher and a bedroom door again, and it’s so quiet that we sometimes take two naps a day. As sometimes happens, the results exceeded the original goal.
Couples: Our couples goal was to do meal prep. This helped us get into really cooking again, and our freezer is full of homemade soup. My husband even made jam for the first time in a few years. We’re back in a proper kitchen and remembering how much we prefer our own cooking.
Stop goal: My “stop” goal was to “stop being sick and tired.” Last year I was really struggling with getting the common cold over and over and over again, and I basically lost a year of sleep thanks to my selfish rude upstairs neighbors. I did some research and experimentation, talked with my doctor, and found out that hardcore zinc supplements really do make all the difference for the immune system. Super Bio Veg for the win. Also we moved and I’ve been able to get about 25% more sleep.
Lifestyle upgrades: My lifestyle upgrade was to get a new desktop computer, which I finally did, once I realized that the system I wanted cost less than half of what I thought it would. Something I have learned is that I should not say I “can’t afford” something until I know, objectively, how much it actually costs.
Do the Obvious: My “do the obvious” was to schedule time blocks so I could get more done. This failed utterly and spectacularly. From June through today there has not been a single normal week, between my dental stuff, travel, moving, my husband’s business trips, my nasty medical surprise that ate November and December, and our poor sick doggy. I honestly don’t think there will ever be a time in my life when I can predict a strict schedule weeks or months in advance. I’m shifting my attitude toward something more flexible and forgiving.
Metrics: I had the idea to add metrics to my annual goal-setting, and this was generally a success. I started out trying to track a bunch of stuff (mostly HIIT exercises) that fell out of my routine due to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Tracking metrics did help me to complete my DTM, focus on SleepQuest, and read more than the year before. Wherever I track what I’m doing I tend to get better results, because it doesn’t take long for patterns to stand out.
Quest: My quest for the year was SleepQuest 2019. I’m calling this a success! I was not able to find a single thing that helped me sleep through the heavy footsteps and early-morning vacuuming/rearranging furniture of our upstairs neighbors. Well, other than a moving van, that is. We moved and now I can sleep whenever I want. I may have lost the first three quarters of the year but at least that phase of our life is over.
Wish: My wish was to be signed by a literary agent. To my great astonishment, I am kinda sorta “in talks” with a couple of people. Maybe this will turn into a thing.
Personal: Book proposal - IN PROGRESS
Career: Distinguished Toastmaster - SUCCESS!
Physical: Hip openers - FAIL
Home: Outdoor writing area - SUCCESS
Couples: Meal prep - SUCCESS
Stop goal: Stop being sick and tired - SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: New desktop computer - SUCCESS
Do the Obvious: Schedule time blocks - FAIL
Metrics: Sleep, fitness, reading, writing, speaking - SUCCESS
Quest: Sleep Project - SUCCESS
Wish: To be signed by a literary agent. - IN PROGRESS
Where do you want to be ten years from now?
Answers to this question tend to come in two varieties:
grandiose plans with no clear information about how to get there.
In these days, a lot of dreams that once would have sounded completely impossible are now fairly reasonable. Like, I want to be a colonist on Mars! Or, I want to be a rock star! Or, I want to talk to a celebrity! Or, I want to build a robot! The more technology makes possible, the less impressed we are by it.
We’ve seen so much dramatic change in our lifetimes that it’s really hard to picture the future. The further out it is, the harder it is to imagine it in detail.
I can definitely say that in 1990, I had no idea about most of what we take for granted today. I would have had the hardest time picturing cheap or free long-distance phone calls, cheap airfare with people wearing shorts and flip-flops on the plane, or everyone having tattoos.
In 2000, I still couldn’t picture little kids talking on cell phones, YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, or robotic appliances.
In 2010, I couldn’t imagine how easy it would be to have everything delivered, rideshare, or controlling everything from your phone.
Now 2020 is almost here, and I have no idea what it is that I’m not seeing, even though it will be a regular part of my life in the near future. 2030? Your guess is as good as mine.
The other thing is that as difficult as it is to picture technological innovations before they arrive, it can be even more difficult to imagine the major events of our own lives. New friends, job changes, moving and living in a different home, or even medical issues can come as such huge surprises. We feel buffeted and attacked by circumstances.
We forget or deny that we have free will. We don’t realize the infinite power we have to make choices, overcome obstacles, and create our own circumstances.
I do think the ten-year framework can help clarify things, though.
If you’re in an on-again, off-again relationship, do you think you’ll still want to be with this person ten years from now?
Do you think you’ll still be living in the same place?
Will your pets still be here? (People usually fail to realize that bringing home a kitten can be an extremely expensive 20-year commitment)
Will you be at the same job?
Will you have any savings? Will you be debt-free?
If you knew you would wind up in the hospital ten years from now, do you have a few solid guesses about why?
(I kinda always assumed I’d probably need a root canal one day, and guess what, I was right)
Will you have new family members in your home? A kid, or one of your parents moving in with you?
The lessons of middle age have a lot to do with responsibility for others, one annoying medical or dental thing after another, financial planning, and being the one who has to answer the Bat Signal. We can get so caught up in the endless waves of problem-solving that we lose sight of the dreams and idealism we had when we were young.
Also we find out how expensive they are.
Or assume they are and never bother to check.
I travel a lot - my dad got a job with an airline when I was a little kid and I started early. It always surprises me how often I meet people who have never gone anywhere. Often they’re so captivated by a certain country or city that they have pictures or artwork about that place. Oh my gosh, I think, you could get a flight there for $600, you could go this year! There are SO MANY travel-related jobs, you could even change jobs and literally get paid to go there. To me travel is the easiest dream because I know how to do it.
Other people might feel that way about a makeover, or learning to write code, or cooking or interior design or going back to school. Sure hon, I can help you with that, what are you doing tomorrow?
It’s humanly possible and they’re probably hiring.
A friend of mine wants to go to Antarctica. I told her I would totally go with her and she said she would do the research. All right, I guess I’d better start parka shopping...
The thing is, though, there’s never an obvious right time to board your dog and just go to Antarctica. There’s never an obvious right time to book a resume consultant and start job hunting.
There was an obvious right time for me to go back to school and get my degree, because my first husband asked for a divorce. Don’t wait for that kind of “opportunity” - just make up your mind and go for your dream now.
How old are you going to be in 2030? I’ll be turning 55, how about you?
Where do you want to be? Do you want to adopt a kid, see the world, get your teeth fixed, launch a website, buy a motorcycle, get your passport? When are you going to do it?
One of the most provocative ideas I ever heard is that most people could make their ten-year goal happen in six months. That is patently not true if you want to do certain very specific things, like study to be a surgeon, but that list is really short. Most of the most common goals, like losing weight, going back to school, paying off debt, training for a marathon, or traveling to a new city, absolutely can be done in that timescale.
Most ten-year goals are so easily reachable, reasonable, and modest that they aren’t motivating enough. They also draw naysayers. Nothing annoys other people as much as when someone achieves something that they want for themselves. Go on and bother them, then. None of these goals are zero-sum or exclusive. That’s why I suggested that I would go with my friend to Antarctica, because I know we’re both more likely to go if we have a buddy.
Sometimes that buddy shows up in the process of planning your dream. It’s a great way to make new friends, friends who can’t imagine you in their life yet, either.
Who will you be celebrating with on New Year’s Eve 2029? What resolutions will you be making that year? What is it that you want to experience in your lifetime?
Do you think you’ll do the research and make it happen? Do you think you’ll show up for yourself?
Obviously a check-in can be done any time, and the Gregorian calendar is a weird artifact of history that has no absolute meaning, but there are undeniable advantages to doing an annual review at the New Year. It’s up to you what you want to put in it, as well.
Lists of grievances and personal vendettas with matching caricatures
Inventions to patent
Obscure parts of the home to decorate and post on Instagram
Hopelessness seems to be a common response to the concept of a yearly review. I don’t get this at all. I can’t imagine why, other than social comparison, it would bother someone to think that you have the power to add more of what you like to your life.
If you want to be sad every day, can you sad more sadly? Nobody is going to stop you.
It doesn’t have to be perky, cute, cheerful, socially acceptable, or photogenic. It doesn’t need illustrations or a soundtrack. It just has to be yours.
It doesn’t have to be relatable, either. I believe this to my very depths, and that’s why I pursue my New Year’s perimeter check even though resolutions have been so unfashionable for so long. More than half of people refuse to set a resolution and of those who do, over 80% have quit by February.
Either it doesn’t work, nobody likes it, everyone is doing it wrong, or I am a freak. I’ve never let any of those things stop me before...
Here is a basic sense of what I mean by a ‘perimeter check.’
Who is in my life? What does my typical day look like? Where am I spending most of my time? What is that space like? What am I doing, and is it working?
How is my energy level?
What am I liking and not liking? What do I want more of, what do I want less of?
The people. Who are the five most important people in my life? Am I showing up for them? Am I letting the time I have for them be eaten up by people who are less vital to my life? (Example: arguing with an anonymous griefer or troll rather than talking to someone I know and love)
The routine. Can I quantify where my time goes, or am I losing track? Can I cut anything out of my schedule? Is it time to let go of a commitment to make time for something else?
The space. Space clearing! Is there enough room for me to live my life? Do I have somewhere to do the things I want to do?
The energy level. Am I tired all the time? Is there anything obvious in my routine, my space, or my social life that is affecting my energy level? How do I want to feel most days, and what am I willing to do or change to spark that feeling?
Like, dislike. Is someone else setting those preferences? Do I even know what I want, in major and minor ways?
More and less. More sleep, less scrolling. More face-to-face conversation, less reading the comments. Or whatever.
For the visuals, I like to draw a life wheel. Typically there are eight slices of the pie, but that can be adjusted to suit. Categories are up to you; for instance, one could be “tacos” and you could rate your year on quality and quantity of tacos. My categories are:
Friends & family
This is where I think the trouble starts, why this exercise can feel so depressing. What if you feel like you get a zero for everything?
I can say from experience that this is how it gets better.
It’s my perception that a lot of guesswork goes into a diagnosis of depression. We’re *told* that it’s neurochemical, without any literal, objective, actual bloodwork or brain scans going on. (Even though they are technologically possible). Prescriptions are written after fifteen-minute consults (if that, ha) and it can take several years to get confirmation when those initial diagnoses prove incorrect.
I think it’s helpful to point out that there are differences between depression, other neurochemical or physiological states that feel pretty depressing, grief, sorrow, and depressing situations and circumstances. Life review is a piece that can serve to figure this out, to get a better sense of what is going on.
If you have depression and you also live in depressing circumstances, then it may be possible to get faster results by working on the circumstances first.
If you actually do not have depression (maybe it’s medical, like low thyroid, did they check that?), then working on improving depressing circumstances may be all you needed after all. That, and a more competent doctor...
I used this same sort of rating system to track, analyze, and overcome chronic pain and fatigue, migraine, night terrors, and insomnia, among other things. Those problems were real to me - just as your pain and sorrow are real - but I didn’t lose my identity when they went away. It’s mighty interesting to get to know yourself, the you that exists under the shadow of your worst problems.
The emotions that I want to feel around my annual review may include elation, joy, and delight, but those are not the feeling states that drive me most of the time. I do aim for domestic contentment most of all, because I feel like it’s the most impact for the effort and it also benefits others around me. Happiness, though, isn’t always on my dial. What I prefer is to follow my curiosity. Intense interest is my preferred setting. Satisfaction is only possible for me, personally, through challenge. Serious challenge.
This is what happens when I do my annual review. I spend a few days sorting and getting rid of stuff, cleaning, emptying out the fridge, and maybe rearranging furniture. I evaluate the past year and make plans for the upcoming year, including travel and family visits. I make sure I’m starting the year without loose ends, like library fines. I do a broad overview of my finances and my fitness level. I try to be as accurate about the reality of my daily life as I can, because I’m the one who has to live it. I wake up with myself every day. Whatever else is going on, whatever external slings and arrows affect my circumstances, at least I can be clear about my own values and whether I’m living up to them. I can stand up for myself and be my own ally, even in the hardest years when I need myself the most. Even more, I can consider whether I am showing up for the people who make me want to show up for them.
I love the feeling of starting over with a clean slate. The truth is that the majority of stuff we beat ourselves up about doesn’t really affect anyone else; it only matters to us. That means we can look at it as a pure gift to ourselves, no pressure, no deadlines.
For me, though, my absolute favorite thing is to wake up on the morning of New Year’s Day and feel like I have a whole fresh calendar, no weird leftovers from the previous year.
This is what I like:
My place - the cleanest it will be the entire year
A basically empty fridge and freezer, no scary leftovers or containers with no expiration date
A clear desktop
Empty email inbox
No notifications pending on anything, anywhere
Some space on my shelves, some empty hangers, and room in my cabinets
No fines, fees, or borrowed items waiting to go back
Pets bathed, trimmed, etc.
The great thing about this fresh-start feeling is when you have the day off for the New Year. It means you have absolutely no chores to do and you can lounge around quite shamelessly, enjoying all the gleaming surfaces before everyone else messes it up.
*gives side-eye to flying feather duster and Mr. Muddy Paws*
I look at December and January both as buffer months. They don’t really count toward resolution time, most especially for fitness or body transformation purposes. December is my month for planning, and January is my grace period for finishing off any loose ends from the previous year.
Those loose ends usually mean closet-purging and other organizing projects, and books I was reading that I left off partway. Every single year I resolve to quit doing this, and every single year I somehow find myself midway through a dozen or more books. This probably started around the time I got into chapter books...
The goal around all this tying of loose ends is an emotional state. The idea is to avoid any kind of feeling of MUST or SHOULD or HAVE TO. We want to be fully aware of what we choose and what we do because it makes our lives easier - like paying taxes, staying out of traffic court, and maintaining a comfortable living environment.
Wouldn’t it be nice to feel that way close to 100% during our off hours?
I’ll share an example of a “clean slate” project that I’m focusing on this month. It’s honestly the dumbest thing I can think of, something that almost all sane people would think is beneath their attention, and they’re correct in that.
Our new apartment has glass shower doors. Unlike every previous set of shower doors I’ve ever had, these are not frosted, pebbled, textured, or coated in any way. This makes it obvious that there is some kind of grimy build-up. I have tried SO MANY different cleansers and approaches to getting this stuff off, and at this point it’s part intellectual puzzle and part battle of wills. What is this muck and filth??
I’m a “daily squeegee” person so it’s even more infuriating.
I’ve tried: white vinegar; white vinegar mixed with dish soap; CLR; Lime-A-Way; rubbing alcohol; Bon Ami; and each of these with a battery-powered scrubber with two different scrubbing heads.
Whatever it is, it evidently isn’t soap scum, calcium, limescale, or ordinary dirt. I suspect sorcery.
Nobody on earth could conceivably care about these grubby water droplets on my shower doors as much as I do. No way. Most people in my age group probably wouldn’t even see them without their glasses on. This has nothing to do with external pressure, social rules, feeling judged, or guilt or shame or whatever. It’s just a challenge. GAME ON.
A clean slate is what we need when something keeps clutching at our attention.
If we can’t convince ourselves to quit caring, and we don’t plan to remove ourselves from the situation entirely, then it’s time to vanquish it, whatever it is.
Stuck drawers, loose buttons, scuff marks, stacks and piles, the trunk that’s so full it can’t be used - anything that simply bothers and annoys and distracts us is a candidate for the clean slate.
There are several approaches to determining what projects to tackle for your clean slate. What works depends on your situation, your mindset, and even your daily mood.
One, the brain dump. Write out a list. This can be really fun because there are few delights quite like the satisfaction of crossing stuff off a list. If you share your household with others, you can tape the list to the inside of your front door and let everyone else compete for most items completed.
Two, the perimeter check. Start at the front door and work your way clockwise through the room, then clockwise to the next room. Either handle stuff as you come across it, or take notes and move along with your clipboard. This is a good method if you have a fix-it person under your roof who can barter peace of mind for pure action - and a little quid pro quo. There must be something this person would love for you to finally get done that would feel like a fair trade.
Three, the hot spot. Start with whatever is bothering you the absolute most. Even if that’s the only thing you do, at least you are free at last.
Four, the comfort zone. Start with the area that is most important to you and do everything that needs doing in that area. It might be the inside of your car, or the area around your bed, or your dining table. Imagine your dream version of that space and see if you can come up with an upgrade.
For me, the biggest question is always, would I choose this? Was it intentional? I don’t ever want to feel like I am tolerating a perpetual problem if I have the ability to do otherwise.
The next question is, when you’ve finished liberating your mental bandwidth, what are you going to do next?
Talking about money makes a lot of people stressed out and upset. This is sad, because ignoring financial problems only makes them worse. Money is the best solution for money problems!
It doesn’t take much to completely change your financial situation. It can be done in a surprisingly short time. The tricky part is that the rules that work at one level don’t even make sense at another level. It’s not so much learning these rules or putting them into practice, it’s believing that they are true.
“What got you here won’t get you there.”
One of the biggest of these is the mindset behind paying off debt. It can be such a major goal for so long. When it happens, though, you never have to worry about paying off debt again. You’ve done it and you’ve learned how to live on less than you earn. Debt will only come back into your life if you fall back on old habits or something unexpected happens. So then what?
If PAY OFF DEBT is no longer your big long-term financial goal, then what is?
When you’re broke, it makes sense to go on an austerity plan and save as much money as possible. I can tell you a lot about that if you haven't already tried it. Renting a room, not owning furniture, riding the bus, skipping meals, clipping coupons and going to the thrift store on half-off day. Delaying everything from medical and dental care to haircuts.
When you rise in your career, though, it actually hurts rather than helps to “save money” in these ways. More and more of your employability revolves around your external appearance. Cut your own hair and wear stuff from the thrift store bins, and you’ll quickly find that less qualified people are moving forward before you. Spend your time bargain shopping and cutting coupons, and maybe you won’t even realize that those hours could have been spent far more strategically.
Most of us don’t learn these things from our families. The financial lessons we learn come from earlier eras, when the economy was different and the rules of the business world were different, too. We can get jobs now in entire fields that did not exist in our parents’ or grandparents’ day.
Get a solid job with a solid employer, work there until retirement, and buy a house as your major investment. Gee, nice work if you can get it!
The major advancements in my household’s financial life have come, more or less, from the EXACT OPPOSITE advice.
Be prepared for your entire industry to change almost overnight as technology advances. Brace yourself for mass layoffs at least once a year and maybe even once a quarter. Constantly learn new things so you don’t get left behind. Stay flexible because your best opportunity may be in a new city, new state, or new country entirely.
We’ve won specifically because we knew we couldn’t bet on any one employer and because we know a home purchase is only worth it if you’re confident you can stay there at least five years. With each move, we’ve done better.
Another thing that holds people back is fixating on one job, giving everything to that employer, and holding a grievance about why they promote the wrong people, make bad decisions, or still haven’t given back the recognition and appreciation that the right people deserve. It’s emotionally the same as staying in a disappointing love relationship out of misplaced loyalty.
The answer for a lot of people is that they’ve outgrown their job long ago. They should have put their emotional attachments toward their friends and family, and their mental focus toward looking elsewhere for professional advancement. Most people only get a raise or promotion when they change jobs.
Most people are in positions where there *are no* opportunities for advancement and *never will be.*
The hardest workers keep picturing how all the problems with their job could be fixed, if only someone would listen. All that energy and drive and ambition and talent is going straight down the drain.
Alphas are often in trouble at work, because we don’t “know our place” and we keep sharing our ideas when that is not seen as appropriate to our role. It comes across as a distraction at best and insubordination at worst. Why can’t you just keep your head down and mop that floor?
Yes, I have been assigned to mop the floor at work. I’m not proud. I’ll probably mop a floor later today. The point is that while I do it, I can still run my mouth and share ideas about how to streamline workflow or improve the bottom line. That is, I can do it for a willing listener.
Or I can pause and realize that if I’m going to mop floors at work, I should do it at my own company.
Why work for someone else who doesn’t get it and never will?
The biggest advantage of a lame, boring, dead-end job is that you can do it competently while bootstrapping your own side venture. If nobody there recognizes you as what you are, if nobody cares that you have more to offer, then they probably won’t even notice that your attention is divided. I’m convinced that at least 95% of the people I supported as an admin wouldn’t even remember my name; I’ve passed former coworkers on the street who clearly didn’t recognize me. We owe them nothing but our 8 hours and basic courtesy.
Following the status quo is not “a move.” Do what’s expected and you get what everyone else is getting, namely debt, chronic financial anxiety, long commutes, and a big question mark where “retirement” is supposed to be.
It’s the willingness to acknowledge risk that allows for big money moves. The truth is that the status quo is inherently extremely, catastrophically risky! Ask around. It isn’t working for most people and they will readily admit it.
Is it risky to relocate for a job, to start a side hustle, to live a radical lifestyle that makes your parents nervous? Of course it is. No riskier than everyday reality, though. Allow yourself to at least consider making major changes, since you can test them emotionally before making those big money moves into reality.
It was inevitable that I would read this book. All my favorite writers talk about Marie Forleo all the time. Most of them thank her in the acknowledgements. Who IS this woman? I thought.
Then I read Everything is Figureoutable and found out what the fuss was about.
This is an incredibly motivating book. It is packed with examples of Forleo’s students solving problems from their lives, and sharing the thought process they went through when they realized that they actually had the power to do something about their situation.
The book takes on skeptics, starting with the very concept that everything is indeed figureoutable. I like this approach. As a coach, I find that people on the low end of the readiness scale spend a lot of time venting, telling others that they “don’t know what it’s like,” and exclaiming that they’ve “tried everything.” Meanwhile someone who has resolved the very same problem in the recent past may be sitting right there, waving for their attention. Everything is Figureoutable but contrarians don’t want to believe it, or admit it.
Perfectionist? Procrastinator? Naysayer? Give it a look. Literally what is the worst that could happen?
If you’re hell-bent on looking for reasons why this won’t work, congratulations. It won’t. But neither will anything else.
No matter what you believe your limitations are, I promise that if you look hard enough, you’ll find someone with more challenges than you.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those with reasons and those with results.
Embrace the fact that if you were powerful enough to create an overcommitted and overstretched life, you’re powerful enough to uncreate it.
If you had to find the time, you would.
You never get stronger if you only do easy things.
I’m going to let you in on one of our private jokes. Every couple should have some kind of tradition or ritual or inside joke that doesn’t make sense to anyone else. It’s fun! It’s also a way to use teamwork to fight a persistent problem.
M.O.D. stands for Music of the Day.
It came about because I absolutely cannot stand Christmas music. When we were kids, Christmas decorations went up the week before Christmas and came down before the New Year. Now it all starts on Halloween. For those of us who grew up in the Seventies and Eighties, this makes no sense at all. Why spend two months on one holiday???
(And why isn’t that holiday Independence Day? Oh, right, because there’s no commercial tradition of gift giving or a $2 billion decoration industry involved. It’s called “the Fourth of July,” not “Patriotic Entire Summer”).
Commercial Christmas isn’t a winter holiday, either; it starts in mid-fall and actually ends shortly after winter begins. What the heck is going on?
I blame Mariah Carey.
I’m convinced that Mariah Carey is an extremely powerful sorceress who uses her octave-spanning voice to hypnotize people, and possibly also create weather conditions. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Notice that she hasn’t aged in thirty years. Change my mind.
Anyway, all you need to know is that Christmas music makes me break out in hives, so I started trying to avoid ever leaving the house between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, and this created an unfair hardship for my spouse, who likes socializing with me. How were we going to hang out at the cafe or go to the movies for two of twelve months every year, if I was going to run for the exits every time I heard sleigh bells?
This is how it works. We take turns choosing the artist, and then we text each other. We both listen to that band for the rest of the day. I keep my headphones on in the cafe, at the mall, in the back of rideshare vehicles, and I make sure not to schedule dentist appointments in December. My honey only listens at work or the gym.
M.O.D. works for us because we often go through stretches when we aren’t in the same city. On a few occasions we haven’t seen each other in two or three weeks, and a couple of those we only got 40 minutes together on an airport bench before we were separated again. M.O.D. connects us when we are in separate time zones, missing each other.
It all started one year, when I made a calendar with a schedule of secular, non-decorated things to do each day to celebrate or prepare for the New Year. One of those days was “AC/DC Appreciation Day.” I thought we could both hang out and listen to AC/DC.
I told my husband I was having AC/DC Appreciation Day and he was totally down. In fact he started listing off other bands that might fit on that playlist. I don’t remember which of us actually came up with the idea for “Music of the Day,” although I’m pretty sure he was the one to make it an acronym. It was something we could do with very little effort, no extra cost, and no commitment. It sounded awesome and we went for it, starting as soon as we got home.
Talking about something that sounds like a good idea is one thing. It’s entirely something else when you actually launch and realize that, wait, this is even better than we expected!
Sharing musical tastes is not a requirement for long-term love and contentment. Contrary to the belief of music snob pretentious boys everywhere, you can respect one another even if you loathe each other’s beats, because of this mystical 20th-century invention called “headphones.” If you’ve never heard of headphones, they are a technical innovation that goes on your head and both provides your own tuneage while protecting you from the inferior auditory crimes of others in your vicinity.
We are fortunate, though, my honey and I, because we enjoy a lot of the same stuff! Namely classic rock, glam rock, heavy metal, and Delta blues. We both also did our time in marching band, so we have an affinity for Sousa marches. Go ahead and laugh, we’re having more fun than you. Plus you can’t fight a man holding a tuba.
We have a seven-year age difference, so we each tend to be a bit better versed in a slightly different era. He went to high school during the golden age of hair metal, before I had ever bought a cassette tape of my own, and by the time grunge came around, he was a married dad with a career. This is a major advantage of M.O.D.: we use it to introduce each other to bands that the other might have missed.
Our technique on M.O.D. is slightly different. He likes the low-maintenance playlist method, where you just choose the artist and stream whatever comes up. If they don’t have that many albums, you can round out the day with similar musicians. If you only have a couple of hours of headphone time, you then spend it listening to the best of the best.
I like the more history-oriented discography method of starting with the earliest album, playing it in order, and then proceeding to the next disc in the chronology. This usually means they sound better as the day goes on. It also means I focus more of my listening time on tracks I may never have heard! One of the greatest thrills for me is hearing something by a beloved singer for the first time, especially after I was so sure I knew every note and every lyric of every track.
Playing M.O.D. for the month of December means we each get to choose roughly fifteen bands, many of which the other might have picked first because we both like them. It sounds like a lot until you actually start trying to choose your top fifteen music groups! There’s no reason to quit after one month, though. If M.O.D. works for you, add different bands to your list next year, or just keeping going for another month.
Here are some of the bands we’ve played, and if you don’t like them, I don’t want to hear it, just get your own.
Guns ‘n’ Roses
Sitting around with sutures in my midsection has given me a lot of time to think. All sorts of things have been on my mind, but they always circle back to my current situation and how bored and restless I feel. I’ve also been contemplating how completely and totally this stupid medical issue has managed to derail my workout goals.
I think it’s the fitness stuff, more than anything else, that makes people quit making New Year’s Resolutions.
Naturally the cruddy winter weather and holiday feeding frenzy have most of us at our most well-padded at the changing of the year. We completely forget what it feels like when the weather is fine and our schedules aren’t triple-booked. Skip winter and only count the other three seasons.
(It’s the opposite for those of us in hot climates, when winter is actually the best time for outdoor workouts and summer is the one we need to skip).
I had this great idea that I was going to win 2019 by spending the last two months in the gym, finishing the year on a high note. I was going to start running again! I was going to train for a race in March!
Literally two days later, I woke up with a weird hard spot, spent a month on antibiotics, gained 7 pounds in 5 days, had surgery, and then spent nearly two weeks changing bandages and trying not to move. Now I’m waiting for the nurse to call me back because this special butterfly bandage fell off, and it was supposed to last ten days.
No running. No yoga. No bending or twisting. Actually no sweating.
I feel exactly like a display butterfly with a pin through its thorax.
I was talking to a friend who has (totally unwarranted) body image issues. I told her, Whatever you feel that you look like, at least you don’t look like a surgical incision with sutures poking out.
Anything and everything is better looking than an open wound.
Enforced gratitude is universally annoying, but hey. Why is it that we insist on taking what we have for granted? We always have to seek out whatever it is that bothers us, and harp on it, no matter what else is going well in our lives.
Waaa, waaa, I hate going to the gym, everyone snivels. All the time. Well at least you can go if you want to. At least you’re allowed.
Go for me, will ya? Someone? Use my energetic voucher, it’s just floating around out there.
I’m climbing the walls over here, figuratively, because I can’t actually climb anything in the near future. The thing I would most like to do is to sprint up a staircase, like in the Metro station. But I can’t even get down and do a plank.
Not that I “can’t” do a plank - I can probably still hold plank position for a full minute - just that this wound in my midriff is still trying to heal.
It’s been a rough year for me. While we finally moved and I’m starting to recover, a year of chronic sleep disruption and deprivation was really affecting my health. I was exhausted all the time, having migraines and night terrors again, and coming down with a cold once or twice a month. I put on weight and that only seemed to make it worse.
Some people claim that they feel their best, happiest, and most powerful when they’re bigger. Good for them. Must be nice. Enjoy in good health.
For me, weight gain is always a symptom that something is wrong. I think it has to do with my thyroid. The more I gain, the more I feel chilly, tired, sad, and prone to headaches. The first sign is when I’m so tired that I don’t bother to make the bed.
As I turn it around again, which so far I have always managed to do, I start to feel more alert, cheerful, and busy. It’s like a spell wearing off.
This is why I’m on a plan to get my weight back down even though I still have to try to move as little as possible. It just isn’t helping. For whatever reason I magically enlarged while on antibiotics, it’s not making my life any easier.
The most obvious reaction to a situation like mine would be, “I couldn’t help it, what do you expect me to do about it?” Shut up and leave me alone, right?
I see it differently. I see it as an alien interloper trying to claim my poor middle-aged carcass as some kind of host. I’ve seen too many Alien movies to think that’s any kind of good idea. Get the heck out of my body! Begone!
“Me” is my spirit, the part of me that thinks and speaks. Whatever my body is doing at the moment is changeable. My physical vessel looks a bit different from year to year, similar to the way I might change my wardrobe and hair style. I don’t identify with *looking* a certain way, I identify with *feeling* a certain way. I prefer the upbeat energy level to the mopey, tired level.
I’ve taken off 5 of the 7 attack pounds already. Nod to the restoration of my normal balance, now that the antibiotics are out of my system. Also, I have been diligent in staying on track with what I eat, ignoring the typical background noise of cookie, candies, and other holiday treats.
I saw a cookie and I didn’t put it in my mouth. Santa Claus fainted and the reindeer crash-landed in a tree. The North Pole tipped over and rusted out. It was me, I did it.
It just so happens that I should be good to go just in time for New Year’s Eve. Nothing more than a coincidence. Every day is just as good as any other for reclaiming your body and your physical power base. I see it as a sign, though. The first day that I can, I’m lacing up my shoes and getting my beat back. Just because I had a do-nothing year of exhaustion, does not have to make it permanent. When I look back thirty years from now, it will just have been a fitness speedbump.
The horns of a dilemma are no place to be. Whatever situation you’re in, feeling unable to make a decision will extend it and prolong the difficulty. The only way to be free is to figure out what you’re going to do.
This is exponentially more true if you feel stuck on a lot of undecided decisions.
Not everyone has an issue with being indecisive. It’s good to appreciate that. I think indecisive people can learn by example, too, and free themselves and the others around them. We have to lower the bar on most decisions and save our mental energy for the big stuff.
You know what I tell people when they’re having trouble figuring out what to do?
If it were obvious, it wouldn’t be a decision!
The only reason it feels hard to make a decision is if there are good reasons for each option, and choosing one cancels the other. The flip side of this is if there are negatives to each choice, if no matter what you pick, there will be some bad outcome for someone.
Not deciding does not, unfortunately, allow you to collect on all possible positive outcomes. Not making a decision also does not help anyone avoid the negatives.
Eventually, this crossroads will be passed, only visible in the rear view mirror... until the next major intersection, that is. The thing about choices is that the same type of decision comes up again and again.
Should we stay together or break up?
Should I stay at this job or leave?
Should I go to this party or stay home?
Should I spend money on this or not?
What should I order off this menu???
Personally, I refuse to bog myself down with petty decisions. I’m never going to spend more than two minutes choosing what I want off a menu, or deciding what to wear. The minute I realize that I’m caught up at a choice point and that I need to make a decision, I’m 90% of the way there. Why would I drag it out and make it worse on myself?
This is a benevolent attitude because nobody around me needs to waste time listening to me try to make up my mind, either. Nothing spreads like stress. I have no way of knowing what other people are going through, and my concern of the moment may be only 1% of the valence of anyone else in my social group.
I actually prefer talking to other people about their problems, rather than talking about my own. It’s a great distraction! Sometimes it gives me perspective or teaches me how to solve an issue later on. Sometimes I can help.
It may be easier to help someone else resolve something. Then maybe you still have your original problem, but you’ve made a difference to someone else, and nobody can take that away.
Everything we do to solve a problem reminds us that problems can be solved. Try to think of a completely unique problem, one that no human in the history of the world has ever dealt with before. If you can, DM me, because I’d love to know!
There are a few heuristics I use when making a decision.
One: Is this problem actually mine, or someone else’s? *drama detector ON*
Two: Is this an animal problem or a human problem? If my dog, a squirrel, or a crow would know how to handle this, then can I?
Three: Can this problem be solved by money? How much?
There are three other things I’ve started doing to preserve my precious mental bandwidth.
Status meeting. My husband and I save all our mutual pending decisions to discuss once a week at Status Meeting. We also share what’s going on in our personal lives, and we’re usually able to help each other make decisions because of our non-overlapping skill sets.
“Decisions” email folder. If it isn’t an urgent, Quadrant I issue, I immediately drag it into the *Decisions* folder. Default to no.
A “Decisions” list in my day planner. This list is the opposite of the email folder. Email comes from someone else and requests your time and attention. My list is self-generated and reflects my own priorities. These are Quadrant II questions, things that could be strategically important and valuable, but will only happen if I choose to put my attention, time, money, social support, and other resources behind them. They also need their proper timing. Often they need research, too, because if I knew how, then I’d already be moving ahead.
It helps to have policies in place for as much as possible. It saves time and makes it easier for others to get along with you, because you are consistent, they know what to expect, and they can plan around you. It also sets the example that they can set their own policies. Example: don’t bother to bring me a coffee, because I won’t drink it, but thanks for the lovely gesture.
A new situation can often generate a new policy. We may sometimes have to learn things the hard way, but at least that bitter experience can help us avoid it happening again.
One of those policies is simply to force yourself to confront your pending decisions. Is it time to change jobs or relocate? Is your budget working? Are you sacrificing your health and peace of mind for something that doesn’t deserve it? Has a relationship reached the end of its natural lifespan? Is a lot of your time disappearing into the ether when you’d rather be doing something more intentional?
Keeping a list of pending decisions is a way of putting your foot down. It’s a way of reminding yourself that if you don’t set your own priorities, someone else will set them for you. Are you getting the rewards of your efforts, or is someone else? Are you heading toward the outcomes you’ve chosen for yourself, or blowing around like a tumbleweed? Exert your free will and confront your pending decisions today.
Once upon a time, we lived in the worst place of our marriage. It had so many problems, the worst of which was that our upstairs neighbors made noise any time between 4:00 AM and 2:00 AM. We could never get any sleep and our property manager refused to do anything about it.
We wanted out of our lease. We thought we had grounds.
Instead the property manager blamed us for being the bad tenant and causing problems. We were told that if we left, we would be charged 2.5x rent.
Aha, we thought, at this point it would be cheaper just to move out and keep paying the rent.
So that’s what we did.
Before forming an opinion on this course of action, imagine just how thoroughly miserable you would have to be, you personally, before you would pay double rent. Imagine what emotions you would have to have before that would sound like a good idea.
Yeah. That’s pretty much how we felt.
This place was built at some point in the Sixties or Seventies, and it shows. They have to disclose the presence of both lead and asbestos. There is constantly an outage of either the power, or the hot water, or all the water, or the internet. Or the laundry room is closed, or the pool is closed, or one of the parking garages is closed, or an entire building has to be evacuated for a couple of days.
We left our first building and moved to a different unit after watching as no fewer than four apartments on our floor suffered flooding from a burst pipe. Inexorably, every couple of weeks there would be a giant fan set up in a doorway down the hall, then one closer, then one closer, then yet another unit closer. “We’re next,” we thought, and imagined how much of our stuff would be ruined by a burst pipe.
Sure, we have renter’s insurance, but the mess!
This place sucked. The only thing it had going for it was the location, amplified by its luxe landscaping. What hooked us was that you can’t tell by looking at it how many problems this place had with its infrastructure.
We’d been counting the months until our lease was up. Then I realized that I had miscounted, or misremembered, which becomes a chronic issue when you don’t get enough sleep for a year. We actually had about six weeks longer than I had remembered.
No way, we thought. Can’t do it. We couldn’t bear it.
Then we saw that a listing we had fantasized over weeks before was still open. We launched. Somehow we knew when we first saw the photos that we would live there, that it would be ours, and recklessly we signed the papers.
We didn’t say anything when we moved out. I just hired movers and reserved a van, and we were out in, what, four hours? I had our new place mostly set up before my husband even got home from work. He left the Bad Apartment in the morning and came home to the New Place ten hours later.
It really was that simple.
Okay, EXPENSIVE, but simple.
The reason we were able to make this move is that we have been living off only half our income for the past couple of years.
We have savings and we have investments because we prioritize living well within our means.
They call it EFF YOU MONEY and that’s exactly what we did with it. We talked to our [***evil***] landlord and then we internally formed the potent thought EFF YOU, BUDDY and then we effed the eff right out of there.
What we paid in double rent was annoying. It in fact made me really angry for two months.
“That could have been a really nice vacation,” I pointed out to my husband, who is much better than I am at shrugging things off and emotionally moving forward.
“It HAS been a really nice vacation,” he said, shocking me to my core. I hadn’t thought of it that way. What other vacation would we have had that would have lasted for two months? We’d been able to sleep, to take two naps a day sometimes. We could go out on the rooftop patio and watch the sunset and look at the sea, and we did. We had a gym and a pool and a hot tub and a sauna, dated and small, but still available.
What we might have spent on a nice vacation, we instead wound up spending on a semi-permanent lifestyle upgrade.
We’ve met our new landlord, an impossibly cool person who has his own Wikipedia page, and we like him. It is cheering to write our checks to him personally instead of to a property management company that we believe is corrupt.
See, when you stay in a hotel, the hotel management puts guest satisfaction first and foremost. At the slightest issue, they’ll move your things for you to a different room, often a nicer room. We’ve gotten free upgrades, from a room to a suite, from a suite to a penthouse suite, and we’ve been comped meals and drinks basically just for smiling. A hotel trades happiness for cash.
For some reason, a lot of landlords and property managers take the opposite view. They see tenants as parasites infesting and ruining their property. No nail holes, they say, no paint, don’t you dare pretend you actually live here and wreck the place. It’s combative from the first day.
Why, though? Why can’t both hoteliers and property managers see a guest/tenant as an unending fountain of passive income? Why not see a hotel room and an apartment in the same light, as a trade of shelter for cash, and the nicer the more valuable?
The place where we used to live has about fifty units sitting empty. This is why they shafted us for $300 after we moved out, the first time since 1990 that I have ever not had my entire deposit returned, because I always spend days micro-cleaning with a toothbrush and cotton swabs. They’re terrified that they’ll continue to make less and less money, and that scarcity mindset poisons the commercial relationship they have with their tenants. This is why they are untruthful and refuse to disclose so many issues with the property, because they see their tenants as adversaries.
We would have stayed for years if we could only have had a quiet home. They could have made tens of thousands of dollars off us. We would have convinced our various colleagues and casual friends to move in and make the complex into a social hub. Instead we’ll feel obligated to warn people away, to tell the absolute truth about what it was like to live there. Now our cool and nice new landlord can cash our rent checks instead. It’s all the same to us.
That property manager may feel smug that they “won” the negotiation. They got a couple more rent checks. Yay. Good for you, you must be so proud. How good you are at business. They’re thinking in the short term, though, and they have no idea how much this attitude is truly costing them.
We didn’t “break our lease” because our reputation is more valuable to us than money. That didn’t mean we had to actually live in an unlivable situation, though. Just because we continued to pay market rent on the place did not mean we had to stay there ourselves! Nobody can force us to stay in a situation after we’ve decided that we are unwilling. We couldn’t live there anymore, and so we just moved out.
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.
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