#57: About Change and Daily Habits

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now” -old Chinese proverb

Yesterday, I pulled my little number, as usual, and found that the question for today is #57:  A year from now, what will you wish you had started today?  After thinking about this for the last day, as I do, I have come to the conclusion that this may very well be the most important question in this book.

Misty

This question was contributed by Misty Bastian Trammel, who lives a new-age hippie life in Oregon with her husband Jeffrey and two beautiful little girls.  She told me she was, “doing the usual regrets one day, wishing I had done something earlier (probably start a diet) and it occurred to me that if I didn’t do something about it NOW, I would have the same feelings of regret later. Not exactly an epiphany but It did stick with me and has been helpful in getting me motivated to start a few things. It works with short term goals as well. Asking yourself what you’ll regret tomorrow or next week if you don’t start it today can give you a push in the right direction.  The Now is always the best time to get going on the things you’d like to do.”

So true.  And like Misty says, it doesn’t have to be a big thing either.  Even a slight change in your daily habits can, over time, result in a major change in the trajectory of your life path.  You can never predict the results of the change either because one tiny adjustment in the way you walk through your day may lead to something completely unexpected that has a lasting result.

I can think of so many examples. I remember a woman once telling me about the decision she made to get rid of her television.  When I spoke to her, she and her husband were leading workshops on simple living and she would actually trace out the impact that that one small change had made on their lives; the massive amounts of money they saved as a result of spending less because they were not inundated with subtle ‘buy this’ messages, a better marriage, more health because they started spending time walking and cooking healthy food.

Think of some other tiny habit that you could change that might have some long-term impact.  Suppose you started a writing practice?  Suppose you got up half an hour earlier every day and read or meditated for half an hour?  Suppose you chose to get rid of one piece of physical or emotional clutter every day (a coincidence that my other blog is on that very topic)?  Suppose you started your day with a peaceful walk in your garden drinking a glass of water instead of grabbing a coffee and running out the door to work?  That’s what I did last winter.  I started getting up, putting on my big down coat, getting a glass of water and my big boots and walking my back forty two or three times.  Okay so my back forty is just the number of steps that it takes to walk from the edge of my deck to my big Colorado spruce about halfway down my backyard, but that very quiet and peaceful start to my day was a very pleasurable daily ritual.

Misty’s beautiful daughter, Donora

Back in 2005 when I was going through a terrible time, I started to journal.  It started on a whim.  One morning as I was getting ready for work I had Canada AM on and I heard a man talking about his battle with cancer.  He said at one point in his treatment that he thought to himself, “I can make a choice.  I can go on feeling this bad, I can die, or I can choose to live.”    He chose to live and that was twenty-five years before.  In 2005, he was 75.  I thought, “In 25 years, I’ll be the same age.  Do I want to feel this bad for 25 years?  Or do I want to be happy.”  I sat down and started journaling and I journaled every day for months after that.  Within a week of starting to journal, my life was starting to turn around.  Was it because of the journaling?  I don’t know but I know that I now have a record of my journey from desperation to happiness.  I still journal although not every day and I love to go back and read old entries.But back to the question:  A year from right now, what will I wish I had started today?  This implies that it’s an ongoing thing.  I could start all kinds of things but probably the one that would make the biggest long term impact on my life would be if I started to eat healthier and started to exercise.  It doesn’t even have to be a huge change.  I could start gradually and let my success with that lead to the next step.  I could begin right now with a healthy breakfast and a big glass of water.  I could begin with taking the dog for a walk.  Even a small change could lead to a potential weight loss of just half a pound or a pound a week—small change unless you remember that is 25 lbs or 52 pounds over the year.  That could have all kinds of residual effects:  less blood pressure meds, an increased likelihood of taking on some exciting new hobby like mountain climbing (okay, maybe not).

That is my answer and my commitment:  to start eating healthier, drinking more water, and moving more.  We’ll see what transpires.

#55 – About Playing Jazz, Taking Risks and Living an Adventure

Okay today my question is #55:  what one thing do you really want to do that you have never done? What’s holding you back?  I pulled it yesterday as I always do, so that I could think about it.

My first thought was, “Hmmm, nothing!” Pretty much every time I want to try something, I do.  Then I remembered that I used to want to jump out of a plane and I haven’t.  But the reality is, I don’t really want to.  I’m afraid of heights and I really, really don’t want to jump out of a plane.  In fact, once I signed up for a charity jumping out of a plane event, and collected all the pledges and then had to give them back because I changed my mind.  Now I have two new knees and I am not even allowed to parachute.  Whew!  Thank god!

Then I remembered my big dream.  My B.A.D., my BIG AUDACIOUS DREAM!  I grew this dream in 2000 when I was in Maui.  I loved Maui.  It was so touristy and everyone was transient and very friendly and welcoming.  I remember sitting on my balcony and coming up with a wonderful dream, my B.A.D.

I decided that I wanted to go to someplace kind of like Maui.  It would have to be warm, touristy, with lots of transient people.  But not as expensive as Maui.  Some place like the Keys in Florida, or maybe St. Croix.  Some place where people go to get away from their history.  Some place where people don’t ask questions.  Perhaps Spain or Portugal.  Or South America.  Or Cuba, I love Cuba.  Some place where they speak Spanish or Portugiese.  Some place safe and friendly.

I want to take a ‘time out’.  A time out from my real life and my job.  On my way from my real life to my new life—let’s call it Portugal for now because that’s my most likely place at the moment—I would stop and become a new person.  I would change my hair, my clothes and my name.  Not legally of course; I would just start calling myself something new like ‘Jazmin’ – Jazz for short.  Back in 2000 I thought I would get dreadlocks but not now.

I would go to my new life for anywhere from four to six months and become Jazz for short.  I would become a painter who paints large abstracts to music.  I would become a new person—outgoing, outrageous, fun, uninhibited.  I would become Jazz and I would meet new people and create a new—short—life.

I would spend my days painting and my evenings being a social butterfly, sitting in the town square, dancing, drinking, entertaining my new friends.  I would keep a journal of my new adventures.  It would be fun!  Scary! But fun.

Then at the end of my time, I would come home and become me again. I would publish my journal and call it ‘Playing Jazz’.

Of course that was before ‘Eat Pray Love’ and ‘Under a Tuscan Sun’ took my idea—kind of.

Now when I came up with this idea, I wasn’t a painter.  Now I am.  Now I paint great big abstracts, sometimes to music.  I’ve even gone to St. Pete’s in Florida and played this role for a few minutes at a time.  I guess I’m practising.

So why haven’t I done it?  I’m scared.  I think I’m too old.  My original story would have to change because of my advancing age.  And my son is very opposed.  He doesn’t understand why I need to take on the Jazz persona.  Why can’t I just go and have a vacation in Portugal?  He’s afraid that I will die over there and they won’t know who I am.  I’ve tried to reassure him that I’ll still be me; I will just be called Jazz.

This past spring, I was talking to someone about my Jazz idea and she was all excited and encouraging as people always are when I share it.  Her enthusiasm was contagious and when I got home I looked into a self-funded leave.  That would certainly be possible.  But now, things are changing at work and it probably isn’t possible.

Someday I may still go and play Jazz.  When I solve the questions:  where to go? What to live on? Where to live?  Am I too old?  What language should I learn in preparation?

Jazz isn’t dead yet.  She’s just hiding under a rock.

#54 – About Money, Retirement and Winning the Lottery

After I retire, this is where I’ll spend my winters

Today, I pulled question #54:  How much money would you have to win in order to feel comfortable quitting your current job?

I looked up what I would need to retire,  because I had no idea.  Considering how close I am to retirement, that’s pretty scary.  I obviously like to live in a little bubble of ignorant bliss.  Here’s what I found out:

According to my research, because I am a single person, a middle class lifestyle is going to cost me about $28,000 to $42,000 per year after retirement.  Of that, the government is probably, given my work history, going to contribute at least $15,000.  So I have to contribute, from savings and my retirement portfolio, or from income, at least $13,000.  The table I gathered this data from says I will need $325,000 in my portfolio but I multiplied $13,000 by 20 (expecting 20 years more of life) and ended up with $260,000.

Okay maybe I should plan on living longer, so perhaps $325,000 would be better.  And of course, as they reminded me, prices are going to go up over the next twenty years.

A lot of the calculation is guess work and will vary depending on several factors like whether you have to pay a mortgage or not.  I have recently upped my mortgage payments with the intent of getting it all paid off before I retire.

I do have fairly expensive hobbies; painting canvasses and paints are expensive.  I would really like to get a degree in fine arts after I retire and even though the local university only charges a senior 50% of the usual tuition, it’s still a lot of money.  I’m not likely to suddenly become famous and be able to charge an arm and a leg for my paintings so I probably won’t even offset the cost of producing a painting.  Maybe after I’m dead.

I have a friend who now, in retirement, takes an around the world trip every year.  I’d like to do that, although unlike her, I think I’ll take it on a cruise ship rather than having to fly from place to place.  So I’m looking at approximately $50,000 per year for that.

I used to think I wouldn’t quit my job unless I won at least $4,000,000 but I was intending at that point to give a chunk to my son and other deserving relatives.  The deserving relatives are rapidly becoming undeserving in my view and my son and his wife both have good jobs.  Therefore, I am only going to worry about what I need to win to guarantee a relaxed and comfortable retirement.  So sorry, everyone!

So my calculations, including a cruise every year, leads me to believe I could retire comfortably if I won $2,250,000 million.  Okay so maybe I won’t take a cruise every single year and I could bring it down by about a million.

Let’s face it a million doesn’t go far nowadays.  But on the other hand, I live in Canada.

Okay, so if I won a million I could retire if I wanted to.  Probably what would happen, even if I won only $500,000, is that the very first time I was snippy about something or didn’t like a project I was assigned to, I’d think, “I’m outa here.” And I’d be gone.

But no matter what, retirement to me doesn’t mean sitting on the porch.  I will probably always be working.  I’ve had my own business since 1981 and I’d continue to have my own business.  I’m actually looking forward to having more time for my business, my writing, my painting, my workshops.  So hopefully, I’ll be continuing to make money long past retirement.

Winning even a million would make it just that much more relaxed and fun.  Tomorrow night’s draw if for $43 million.  I would definitely retire if I won that.

#51 – About Retirement and Money and Planning

I’d probably be bored anyway

Today I have pulled question #51:  If retirement was not an option and you knew you’d be working for the rest of your life, what would you do differently right now?  This is an interesting question to pick right now because I am in a position to be making this decision right now.

I have been self-employed for a good part of my working life.  All of my other employment have been contract or have lasted no more than five years each for various reasons, sometimes because I got bored and moved on and sometimes because of internal changes and layoffs.  Six years ago, I had the opportunity to get a job with the government and I decided that this time would be different!  This time I would stick it out for at least ten years so that I could receive the full benefits package and retire, if not on easy street, at least just around the corner from it.  I was determined.

Now I, more than most, should know that there is no such thing as job security.  I’ve been a career coach since 1981 and in 1994 I had the contract to provide transitions workshops to employees of the very government I am now working for—in the same building.  So when people say that a government job is secure, I scoff.

To my credit, I never completely close other doors, so over the past six years, I’ve written four books and worked half-heartedly at developing other streams of income.  But it was half-heartedly because I really did think I was going to last for ten years.  And after all, I live in Canada where we have a pretty good safety net.

Now it turns out that the branch of the government I work for is being divested and at the very least I’ll be working for someone else, probably.  So much for the great government benefit plan.  So much for sticking it out for ten years.  So now I am seriously thinking about what my options are and recognizing that retirement, as in sitting on the porch in my rocking chair, probably won’t happen.  That’s okay because I don’t have a front porch or a rocking chair, and I’d probably be bored pretty fast anyway. In fact, I was planning to go to university and get a degree in fine arts.  I have even been working on my portfolio since I only have four years left of work.  So much for that!

So I have picked up my pace a bit.  I have written a new book.  I am developing a package that will be available this fall.  I know that my biggest challenge if I want to grow my business will be growing my list so I’m using a variety of means of doing that.  I have upped my mortgage payments with the hope that it will be paid off before I retire.  I am breathing new life into some old networks so that I can get more consulting contracts.

But what I am not going to do is worry.  That is a useless waste of energy and it makes me listless.  I don’t have to worry really.  I have a lot of options available to me and the better I can stay focused on that, the better off I’ll be.  Actually I’m working on a new book about this very subject—dealing with change in chaotic times.  It’s called, Spread Your Wings and Start Walking and it will be about scenario planning.  This is just going to be hands-on research for my book, that’s all.

#4 – About Age and Self-Perception

I’m liking this random picking of questions.  Most of the ones I’ve picked so far are ones that I would not pick by choice, so I am being coaxed to consider odd thoughts and ponder out of the box questions.  Today’s question is #4:  How old would you think you are if you didn’t know how old you are?

What an odd question.  I have to wonder first of all, why I wouldn’t know how old I am because I’m sure that would affect how old I would think I am.  Have I suddenly lost my memory and so have no idea how old I am?  Or do I just have no understanding of age and how it advances?

We judge a person’s age by so many different criteria:  appearance, health, how they behave, what they are doing in their lives, the people they seem to hang around with.  We don’t really have a reliable measure.  Look at the picture I’ve posted above.  How old would you think those women are?  Apparently they are the same approximate age but I would guess that one is in her 80s and the other in her 60s.  There is such a radical difference in their physical appearance.

Some people are young at heart no matter what their chronological age.  They are willing to take on new challenges and try new things.  They seem younger for it.  Other people become stuck in their ways and seem old before their time.  I hope I’m one of the young at heart.

They say that 60 is the new 40.  I agree that people of 50 and 60 seem far younger now than when I was young, and I don’t really think it’s only because now I’m up there myself.  When I was 21 I knew a woman named Edith who turned 50.  I remember on her birthday I said, “Wow, you’re half a century old.”  I was in awe.  But even now, thinking back, she seemed very old.  Of course, Edith is an old name and she probably seemed old when she was 15.

When I turned 60, someone told me that 60 was the new 40 and I said ‘Bullshit’.  When you hit 60, there’s no getting around it, you are getting up there.  Not very long ago, I told my boss that I had decided to start acting my age.  He was shocked and cautioned me.  He said, ‘Are you sure you want to do that?”  I was surprised by his response but it turned out that he thought I meant that I was going to take on some ‘older’ views and stereotypes and he thought I was making a mistake.  I assured him that wasn’t what I meant at all.  I just wanted to start acting more ladylike and quit swearing.  But I changed my mind anyway.

I remember when my son was about to turn 8, he was all excited that he was about to be EIGHT YEARS OLD!  I told him, ‘Hold on a minute!  You don’t think it’s automatic do you?”  He asked me what I meant and I told him that I had to send in a form to the government to prove that he was mature enough to turn 8.  From that day forward for about a month, every morning he would come downstairs and ask me if I had sent in the form.  I would always say ‘No, sorry I forgot’ or ‘No, I can’t find the form.’  I thought it was very funny.  Eventually I gave in and told him the truth.

I would have thought that it was just a funny practical joke but at his wedding in Cuba a few years go, when he was giving a little speech at the dinner time, he said, “You all think my mum’s so great.  You all feel sorry for her for having to raise me (because he’s so well known as a pratical joker), but you have no idea what she’s really like.”  And then he told that story and I felt really bad.  I had no idea that perhaps he was truly stressed about me thinking he wasn’t mature enough to turn 8 and not sending in the paperwork.

So if there was some criteria and we did actually have to send in the paper work before we moved up a notch in the age ladder, how old would I be.  Well knowing my propensity for putting things off, I’d probably still be about 29.  And that’s fine with me.  It’s about how old I feel anyway.

#39 About Choices, Decisions and Fear

Question 39 is ‘Do you ever second guess yourself? Which one do you usually go with—the first or second thought? Does that usually turn out for the best or should you perhaps rethink your strategy?’

First or second?  How about third, fourth, fifth …and so on?  I’m a Libra.  That’s what Libras do.  I can argue all sides of an issue and still not make up my mind.

I used to work as part of a team made up of nothing but Libras.  Our team meetings were a hoot.  We would all start off with our own opinions and then argue loudly and heatedly and end up with everyone on the opposite side by the end of the meeting.  But we all loved each other and it was actually great fun…until we got a new boss who was a Taurus.  But that’s a whole different question.  I’m pretty sure I have one about worst bosses ever.

I have heard that, when doing a multiple choice quiz, you should always go with your first thought.  Sounds like a good rule and certainly one that would make test-taking easier.

But life isn’t always that simple and as a career coach I have seen people suffering from ‘paralysis by analysis’.  They cannot make up their minds and end up doing nothing.   Sometimes people are immobilized because they just see so many options.  Sometimes they can’t see all the options that are available to them.  But either way, making a decision is scary because people are so afraid of making the WRONG choice.

Well I have a solution.  Here we go:

1.  Remember, you cannot predict the future.  All you can do is make a decision based on what you know and the resources you have available right now.  You have to accept that ‘right now’ is a moment in time and that after you make the decision all kinds of things might change.  But if you made the best choice you could based on ‘right now’, let go and don’t beat yourself when things change.

2.  Do your research and then stop and make the frikken decision! Don’t research endlessly.  Do the best research you can and then make the decision based on what you know ‘right now’.  Over-researching is a sure route to ‘paralysis by analysis’.

3. Be open minded and list all the options you can think of.  Don’t limit yourself and the possibilities

4. Don’t bother with pros and cons.  Focus on the pros for each option.  People like to make lists of pros and cons.  I know I used to do it too.  The problem with pros and cons is that it sets up an expectation that there are good choices and bad choices.  When you don’t know what the future will bring, you are really just arbitrarily labelling and scaring yourself in the process.  Instead use a technique introduced by Susan Jeffers in her book, ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’.  I’ve used this for years in my career coaching practice and I have to attest that it does take away some of the fear associated with making a decision.  Here’s how it works:  list all the options across the top of the page and then list the good things about each option under that option.

5.  When you’ve come up with all your options and listed the good things about each one, count them up.  The option with the most pros—wins!

6.  Remember, you sometimes don’t have to choose just one.  Sometimes, you can see that one option is the most loved and has the most pros but it’s not possible right now.  Sometimes, you can see that one option is best ‘right now’ but that you can work towards the most-loved and best option so that you can pursue it at a later date.

Using this process has been a real help for me in making decisions.  Give it a try.

My basic philosophy is ‘lighten up’.  Life is an unfolding.  You allow one opportunity to unfold and then others that are completely out of sight suddenly appear and offer a whole new path for you to explore.