Meanwhile, in the Land of the Hare…


I finished a big project today.  Five months of work (albeit only part of my time) has manifested into a 50 page business plan.  This is my work. I have loved this project and hated it, but I have brought it to the last stage of editing, and that’s a very turtle-like thing to do.

Still, I can’t help but think, as I look at it, that I might have done the same quality work in five weeks if I had the determination and the stamina.  What is the power behind stamina, anyway?

I’ve been going over the rabbit and the hare in my mind, trying to find my inner turtle.  I’ve been searching for a vision or a motivator that can keep me on track with my financial goals, and quite frankly, it’s just not happening.  The best I’ve come up with is actually pretty mundane:

Make a list of things I want to accomplish every day and hang it on the wall next to my side of the bed.  Every night before I go to sleep, I’m bound to glance at it just because it’s so close to my face.  If I hang a reminder of my goals in front of my own eyes, I’m pretty sure I’ll take stock of the things on the list.

So, what should go on the list?

In my case, I realized that having a goal to save $100/mo on convenience foods wasn’t working because it was a goal NOT to do something.  Instead, I’ve decided to spend no more than $100/mo on convenience foods.  This is something I can quantify.  My SMART goal really wasn’t very measurable since you can’t easily measure what you don’t do or spend.  Wow, last month I didn’t spend $10,000 on a boat.  Does that mean I saved $10,000?  I don’t even want a boat.

Once I figured out that I want to limit my spending on convenience foods to $100/mo, I could break that down to daily amounts.  That gives me a $3/day food allowance (apart from groceries).  This is helpful.  On Saturday, when I went to Border’s to work for the day, I ordered a small pot of tea to last me a couple of hours.  When I got hungry, I looked at the sandwich choices.  My $3/day rule came to mind, and I remembered I had already bought tea.  I decided to go home for lunch.

Today, when I was packing my daughter’s lunch for school, I also packed my own.  At work, when I needed a mental break from spreadsheets and business planning, I made tea in the next room rather than buy it from the cafeteria. This $3/day rule may be a good tool for me.  On my bedside list, I think I will put “Daily food spending:” as one line, knowing that my daily average should be $3.

Still, I won’t pay attention to a list like that if it only deals with monetary things.  When I was home with my daughter full-time, I came up with a list of things we should do every day. There were 8:

  • Exercise
  • Spend time with a friend
  • Make something beautiful
  • Help something grow
  • Clean something
  • Save something for another time (money, food, etc)
  • Spend some time alone
  • Exercise your mind

To be honest, I don’t want a list this long facing me every night when I’m trying to unwind, but I do think I can pick the best from the list and create a short list of small things I want to do or contribute to each day.  Introspection is certainly one, and benefiting others in some way is another.  Spending $3 or less on forgettable things like easy food (with the real goal of providing for my family and myself in the future) is an important part of my personal growth.

MY BEDSIDE CHECKLIST

30 min (or more) yoga ______

Helped something grow________

Connected with a friend ________

Smiled with each person in my home ______

Amount spent on food/coffee $3 or less Y/N ( If N, amt:  ________)

1 hr personal, introspective time _______

Impressed myself at work  Y/N

 

I’ll most likely make a spreadsheet that has each item in a list, and the days M T W TH F S Su  along the top row.  That way, I only have to put a new one up once a week, and I can watch my habits over time, and challenge myself to be my best.

Challenging myself toward personal growth: That’s what gets me in a running mood!

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Marriage, Money, and Goals


In business classes, we’re taught to think and plan in terms of SMART goals.  The acronym S.M.A.R.T. stands for

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Realistic
Timely

Learning to think this way helps immeasurably when you’re making a plan, especially one that requires several steps and moving parts.  It forces you to put your nebulous vision into concrete terms.

For instance, if you want to ‘find a better job,’ a SMART goal might be to send out three applications every week to companies where you think you’d like to work.

A SMART way to say you want to lose weight and get healthier would be, “By next month. I want to drop one pant size and be able to run one mile further than I can right now.” In my case, when I set the goal of saving money back in December, I immediately jumped to the SMART goal setting process. “In 2011, I want to save at least $100/month by spending less on convenience foods.” I felt like a good little business school graduate with my finger on the pulse of what needed to change and my smarty-pants SMART goal.

As is often the way with me, I chose the wrong move.

It’s true that I had a goal, and it was very specific, measurable, etc. etc., but I’d skipped the most important part – the vision!  Without vision, a goal has no heart, no passion, no steam, no fire. No staying power. The thought struck me in the middle of a spring repainting project, and I admit I felt a bit moronic for not having realized it sooner.  After all, my entire marriage  hung in the balance of this issue some years back…during wedding planning.

If you ask me, any couple that can survive planning a wedding on a shoestring budget and still say ‘I do,’ in the ceremony has a pretty good shot at marriage.  The argument my husband and I had over wedding invitations lives in infamy in our house.  I was a full-time student at the time, working 2 part-time jobs with only 3 months to plan, and $3,000 to work with, I was wracking my resourceful little brain to figure out how to accommodate the seven hundred people my darling husband insisted on inviting.  That’s what I said. Seven hundred. Seven hundred hand-made invitations had to be made so that seven hundred of his closest friends could be contacted.  If they came, I needed to seat them, feed them, and entertain them for the evening. He printed his contact list onto the invitation labels I’d given him.  No stylish font, no forethought, just:

‘Last Name, First Name,
address’

One of the honored invitees was someone he’s never even met or spoken with, but he is (allegedly)  the only other person in the world with the same first and last name, and so he must be invited.

Yes, that’s the man I married. I almost didn’t marry him, though. Our complete inability to agree on a scope for our wedding was so exasperating that I worried we’d never learn to make a life together.

His parents hired us a wedding planner to help. Thank goodness for Flava!  The very first thing she asked us was to, “Describe your ideal wedding in one or two words.”

“Intimate. Elegant,” I said.
He said, “Superbowl!”

And there it was.  We had a common goal (plan a great wedding), but we had very different visions.

***
What does this have to do with money? Only everything.
So much of what we do involves the exchange of currency that you can hardly separate money from any aspect of your life.  While planning the wedding, three thousand dollars was on my mind every day.  Three thousand dollars, and three hundred confirmed guests (many of the 700 lived quite far away, to my relief), and I needed a decent plan…What could I do?  I did my best. I converted a warehouse-style room in an office park into a ballroom, and we asked each guest to bring a dessert.  It was lovely. Truly.

But, it wasn’t my dream.  My vision got lost the moment we charged ahead with the mechanics of planning.  What we should have done was spend an evening talking about our different visions until we started to dream together. We should have started with broad strokes, and then filled in the details.

I had completely forgotten this important lesson about the distinction between goals and vision.  Then it struck me that I haven’t been motivated to save recently because I don’t have a vision for it. I have a goal – spend $100 less every month on convenience foods than last year – but…..why? A retirement account isn’t enough of an immediate reward.  I need a different kind of payoff.

What I need is a vision of this new me – the one that doesn’t just save on junk food, but saves a full 20% of her after-tax income, no matter what.  What does that me look like? How do I feel?  The specifics I need at this point are not specific mechanical goals. What I need to do is to fill in the details of the dream I want to dream for my life.

Once I’ve fallen in love with a vision I have, I’m a very hard worker.  I pay attention to detail, accepting nothing less than my personal best in every way.  Without the dream, I don’t have the will to push against fatigue and misfortune when they come.

Did I learn to make saving into a game this week? No, I didn’t. (See previous post for context). Instead, I figured out that I’ve missed an important step along the way, and I want to back up, and spend some time dreaming.  What better time for hatching new visions than Spring!

Staying Power


The Tortoise and the Hare is a fable a lot of us have heard, and I know that we’re supposed to admire the turtle’s steady determination, but I’ve always liked the rabbit better.

I’m a sprinter, just like the hare.  When I do something I do it full-force, but I can’t keep that pace for long. I’ve seen this aspect of my personality show itself in countless ways over time – I can repaint and redecorate a room in a day. I can write a decent report in just a few hours. I can psych myself up to take on enormous tasks … for about three days. Then I lose steam.

When we apply the fable to our financial lives, it carries a heavy judgment on us sprinters.  Supposedly, we’re lazy and irresponsible.  We don’t finish what we start, and we’re just not sensible like the tortoise.  If you’re a hare like me, you know the drill – You get going, crank out a huge chunk of progress, then get discouraged, distracted or just need to catch your breath.  Then comes the voice. “You did it again.” It says.  “You never finish what you start.  You’re a flake.  Everybody thinks so.” Try getting moving again under that kind of psychological onslaught. That’s when I wish I was a turtle so I could crawl into my shell and hide from the world for a while.

Today, I am standing up to defend my inner rabbit.  We hares are not immature, flaky people.  We have different weaknesses than the turtle, but we have different strengths as well. There are real advantages to being a rabbit. Speed, efficiency, flexibility, and the ability to turn on a dime when needed. The problem with the hare isn’t laziness, it’s the discontinuity that comes with working in short spurts.

It’s easy to get distracted in between sprinting jags, but when I’m focused, I can go very far, very fast. Because I’m a sprinter, I’ve learned to tackle projects I can finish quickly before I lose momentum. Usually, this works out well for me. The trouble is that many of the things I want to do take more than three days to achieve.  If I’m going to live the adventures I think about, I can’t sprint my way there.

“Slow and Steady Wins the Race.” But, I’m a rabbit, not a turtle!  If I act like a turtle, my inner rabbit will die! I can’t let that happen. I can’t make the decision to deny my inner nature long-term.  I’ve tried before, and the real me always comes busting back out, gasping for air. I can’t be a tortoise, even if Aesop says I should be.

If you’re a sprinter like me, what we need to do is to figure out how to be a rabbit,  but act like a tortoise when we need to. We need to learn the art of slowing down – but not stopping – when we need to rest or refocus.  We need  staying power.

Marathon runners learn to rest on their feet.  They don’t keep one pace the entire time. Instead, they vary their speed in order to take advantage of bursts in energy, and to allow themselves to slow down when they need to recover.

This is the hurdle I have to clear right now.  I’m at a point in my career where a lot is being expected of me.  I care very much about the quality of work I sign my name to. I can’t afford the luxury of inconsistency anymore. In my professional life and my financial life (they are intricately linked), I want to learn how to maintain a steady pace toward my goals in between spurts of inspiration and enthusiasm.

Consistency in pace and performance is a turtle kind of quality.  If I’m going to adopt it, I need to adapt it to suit my rabbity way of living.

When I was a kid, and I had chores to do, my dad would make it into a kind of game.  One spring, we had a community field to prepare for planting.  After the area was tilled, about 50 of us lined up along one edge and started to walk to the other side, picking out the large stones along the way so that the plants would have an easier time getting through the soil.  Anticipating the boredom such a regimented activity would inspire in his five and seven year-old daughters, my father invented a game on the spot.  We spent the afternoon ‘grocery shopping’ for rocks.  It is one of my favorite memories of playing with my dad from that time.  That’s the kind of mental trick I need to do now.  I need to make consistency in my work, and in my savings, more fun.

My question to myself this week: How do I turn, “Slow and Steady” into a game?  Tune in next week, and we’ll see if I figure it out.

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