Blur, funk, bounce

Like everyone else, I have days that are so jammed with work and commitments that the work and the commitments and the whole day all fly by in a blur of activity. Yesterday was one of those days. Yet … yet … I still made time for my gym practice first thing in the morning, a yoga class late afternoon, and a quick cardio queen session at the gym after meeting with the new membership manager.

I also billed 14 hours yesterday. Legally and with some marketing and write-off time excluded from those honestly billable billable hours. I was hopping.

Most of the time, I really have to work at my time management and almost look forward to office days because of the basic structure of being somewhere and focused on a particular line of work for a set number of hours. Trust me, there are a lot of distractions here as well, with staff and bosses running in and out of my office, the phone calls, the emails, the appointments and the drop-in-without-appointment surprises. Still, I am not at home looking at a mostly organized stack of work to be done and yet another completely unorganized stack of work that must be sorted and placed into the mostly organized stack so I can finally get to work. Setup time – major time suck.

It’s normal for friends to suggest I am a workaholic. It’s common to be told I need to take a “real” vacation or to take some time off from work, the gym, my life and lifestyle. Relax, they say. Have fun, they tell me. While it generally comes from a good and caring place, it is irritating and nearly impossible for me to not get defensive about my choices. And since I hate that such sentiments make me feel defensive, I have been trying to figure out why the concern grates on my nerves.

One of my closest friends is recovering from a life-threatening illness. A byproduct of this and his ongoing recuperation is evaluation of his life and his choices with regard to his career, geographic location, and the quality of his life and lifestyle. How much money does he really need? What is more important – being part of a large social group or having a few people nearby he can be real with? Retirement is still 20 years away (minimum), but he is starting to wonder what it is he wants from that.

His reflective state seems to be contagious.

While it is true that I work a lot, the work is not physically taxing. On the contrary, the very sedentary nature of the work I do makes it dangerous to my health. It’s why I have a treadmill desk at home that I am resolving to use a lot more routinely than I have been lately. Having a steady gig with the lawyers provides a better than average silver HSA plan (starting November 1) health insurance for a very nominal cost ($100/month for M and I) along with dental and vision. It also fulfills my desire for balance in face-to-face interaction with people, although I admit it can also overflow and tip the balance to the too much side of the scale.

Expanding my side gigs into a full-blown small business has brought its own joys and headaches. As I have written about previously, when I first started I took any and all referrals for work. My law firm job started that way. A year later, I am being more selective about new work, subcontracting out work where it makes most sense, and trying to maintain some sort of balance that does not leave me working 60, 70, 80 hours per week. I have made some passive attempts to terminate contracts by raising rates or limiting my availability, yet they stay. Just yesterday I contacted a couple of my smallest firms with thoughts of referring them to someone else, but by the end of the conversation I was agreeing that ours is a very good and productive business relationship and only modestly raising their fees for the upcoming year. It’s hard when it only takes a few hours each month, is work I’m good at and could likely do in my most sleep-deprived state, although it is not work I especially enjoy. It’s easy and having a few easy projects each month can be a good thing.

On the flip side there are projects that I am drooling over to the point of the point of temptation to work for free. Except I won’t, because that would be really bad for business. This type of work is typically deadline-driven and interesting to me to be part of in whatever capacity. And it’s my heroin with work, typically very lucrative financially, as interesting and exciting for me to work on as it assuredly as pain-in-the-ass it will eventually become. The PITA is a given for these types of projects; nothing ever goes as smoothly as hoped, and even anticipating problems and shortage of time is inadequate for how many problems and how overblown on time such projects typically run.

Still, I live for these. I love the rush that comes with a short-fuse project, and pursuing that kind of work challenge fuels any and all characterizations of me as a workaholic. Unlike my early days toiling in a civil service environment where the motto seemed to be “there’s never time to do it right, but always time to do it over” would vex me to no end, consulting seems to be competitive and driven by smart people wanting to do and be best at their assigned projects … or moving on to civil service jobs.

As I have stated a lot, I really like my work. It’s not going to ever cure cancer or provide solutions to world hunger or lasting peace, but it keeps my days interesting and pays the bills. Although ours is a pretty simple life, we are not especially frugal and actively working to minimize our fixed expenses. Our health is important to us, so a higher than average percentage of our disposable income goes toward those pursuits. Gym and yoga studio memberships, personal training, running shoes, running accessories and equipment, replacement clothing for exercise pursuits. supplements, etc. There are expensive home remodeling projects in the future plan (kitchen remodel, replacing existing tile, landscaping) and we save for those rather than going into debt. M really wants to train to be a pilot and to build an airplane; those dreams are already mostly funded when he is ready to get started studying and enroll and/or finds the airplane kit he wants to build. The where is a bigger mystery to me and we have already done some idle looking around at shop space for rent.

Then there is the whole retirement savings topic. We have no plans to travel the world or for amazing, exotic trips as retired folks. Hopefully we will continue to enjoy good health, go out and remain active, and more time to pursue hobbies and interests. If I allow the marketing and internet hype to sink in, my fear gene starts twitching and I start panic thinking we’re way, way behind and must cut any and all luxuries (including those that enhance our overall health and quality of life) and live this miserly existence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of keeping expenses low wherever possible, but at the same time, I know what is working for me and I am loathe to give it up for a future I am unlikely to have much less enjoy if I stop taking care of myself now while I still have opportunity to make better choices that will pay long-term dividends.

I would much rather find the balance between working really hard now and have reasonably ambitious savings goals for future projects and older-and-grayer years. We are fortunate to have woken up earlier to the trap of debt and gotten out of consumer debt before purchasing our home. Unless something surprising happens and we choose to switch things up, our mortgage will be gone within the next 7 years and we will have no further debt. Part of me believes working hard to establish my self-employment habit now will aid me in the future when I do not want to go to leave the house to earn income.

If anything, I feel like I am in a give-away stage of life, where I want to pare down our possessions and volume of crap we keep. Last weekend I did a little more exploration in my endless closet and found several things saved in the last purge that will be going on the block via ebay or some other sale site soon and even more into my donation bag. I am being ruthless with clothing I have shrunk out of and not keeping it just-in-case. If I go back up a size I will either have to suck it up and buy new things or grit my teeth and get back on track. I regret donating a designer handbag last week in a fit of declutter fatigue when I saw the same bag on ebay with multiple bids. Ah well. I’m sure the reseller who ends up with it needs the profit more than I do.

So while I have a good handle on my life and reasoning for the choices I make, I remain a little or a lot fuzzy on why others are so unhappy with their own. Personality differences? To a lesser or greater degree we project our biases on those around us or closest to us, and perhaps that is the issue.

When I began blogging a few years ago I was well traveled in personal finance circles. When I actually began this blog, though, I found out how little I have to say on the topic of personal finance, other than it truly is a very personal choice. I knew then, know even better now that M and I are not terribly frugal people, and I find it annoying that people wear their frugality merit badge like some sort of judgment statement. Either that or I am hypersensitive to it, which is entirely possible as well. But whatever; everyone is different.

Thing is, I worry about money for a living. Because of that, my own spending and saving habits tend to be on autopilot. Our budget is set and we do a good job of sticking to it without much tinkering on my part. I do not want to be quibbling or quivering over meaningful services or saving even more of the money we earn. I also do not want to be feeling anxious about whether or not to tip my esthetician just because she happens to be in business for herself. More unique situations – like trainer J or RD (who will not accept money from me for his advice and dietary guidance help) – I just go with my gut on what seems fair and reasonable to me. Plus they are sort of swept up into my inner circle tribe and benefit from the spoils of goodies (booze, gift cards, etc.) that I acquire from clients and vendors and cannot or will not use.

And because of my job and my past as a budget coach, a lot of my online friends and acquaintances have money worries. Having been there, done that, bought and shredded the t-shirt, it seems natural that many I know see my life as simpler or easier with our financial house in good order.

All this finance and work and thinking stuff has been pinging and ponging around in my head. Because of it, lately here my mind feels like mush. If I am not discussing something with specificity – like training recaps or eating strategy – I am all a-wandering in these posts. Here today I mulling over a snarky tossed off comment in real life about working too hard, taking time off, whining so much. Huh. I do not tend to whine much in person – work-life balance choices start and end with me – and I know she does not read the blog. But her income has to stretch far and includes debt and debt service, children, and limited choices and courses of action to increase her income and limits herself on reducing her expenses. She gets a pass because I find her negativity is the limiting factor on becoming closer friends. She has a nasty habit of “yes, but …” to any and all suggestions about helping herself. And that’s fine; I listen with half an ear and change the subject.

As individuals, we are not powerless. We control our attitude and our emotions. There are a lot of choices we have to make that are unpleasant, uncomfortable, or just plain unfair and awful, but reality and circumstances are not always what we want or feel we deserve.

I have struggled this week with various things, and honestly, I have no clear idea why. At work my bosses are effusive in their assessment of and praise for how I am conducting myself and the business matters at hand. My particular management style, while very different than their own, works well with the staff dynamic. Self-employment work is chugging along and gaining more steam with renewals and new clients, short-term projects. M and I are fine, busy pursuing our own objectives at  home and doing a fair number of standing up dinners enroute to something else that needs to get done. Trainer J is not raining pitiful looks in my direction that say I’m a sad sack broken bird in my efforts or giving me any indications that something has changed to where I feel as crappy as I have been about my own efforts and performance in practices of late. Kids, tribe, other friends are fine, on the mend and doing well in their own lives.

So why the mild funk, I wonder? M suggests it seasonal affective disorder. That would be a new twist if that were the case; I have never been bothered by the time change or the shorter daylight hours.

It’s certainly nothing serious. Even mild funk might be a bit strong to cover the higher self-critical tone I have had of late. Today was good, better than I have been in the last couple of weeks, in that while imperfect I went through my List of the day this morning with stronger focus and resolve. Work is perking right along, and walking at lunch today we were discussing funks, depression, anxiety, and the medications available to battle such issues. Having a day where I am so busy that my time to navel-gaze and overthink my own life’s miniscule drama is also always a good thing. Tends to put things into better perspective for me.

Righting my own ship – action is not always required. Occasionally I just need to ride out the squall and let mind find its happy place again. Of course, limiting social media and reading some of the many books piling up on my Kindle and in my “you should read this” recommendations list makes Janelle a much healthier, happier, positive-outlooked person.

Tomorrow is Thursday – training day! How I know for sure I am on the bounce and enroute to righting the mind ship? Earlier today J told me the Thursday 8 a.m. tribe member is out of town, which means if we run late we can take some extra time. That’s always a happy thing, even if I am spoiled, Spoiled, SPOILED (as friend J remarked earlier). But also, it’s likely a teaching day. We just finished our review of another series of workouts we began a few months ago, interrupted with another style of body part splits, and only recently returned to. Next could be kettle bells or some new version of mix-and-match exercise Lists. Whatever. I don’t care. I’ve had a self-imposed weird week with exercise (although today was quite good) and look forward to interactive Q&A rather than just letting my curiosity sit and spin in my own head about what I or others in my line of sight are doing.

And even this deep into regular, consistent exercise nearly every day, I am still ridiculously excited about training days.

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