For the last three years, I have started thinking differently about how I expend my time, money and social capital. In 2017, I had the great fortune to hit rock bottom. I was spinning my wheels on unsuccessful projects, down to my last bit of money, and attracting one hot mess after another into my life (toxic roommates, drunks, bad boyfriends...).
Finally, I figured out that these resources weren’t going to refill themselves. If I wanted financial stability, better control of my time, and healthy relationships, I would have to start taking specific actions to turn things around. So, I started thinking about these resources as opportunities to invest. What would add value to the portfolio of my life. What were risky bets that would likely end in a loss, or at best, diminishing returns.
It wasn’t easy at first and it required me to make hard choices and stay disciplined. I had slipups and losses now and again. But investing is all about playing the long-game.
By intentionally investing in these three categories, I’ve been able to make substantial changes and create a life and lifestyle that feels more true to who I am and what I want to achieve.
When I found myself flat broke and back on Nantucket in December of 2017, I told myself that this was an “opportunity” to start fresh. (Yeah, it sounded like a load of crap to me too at the time.) Now that I can look back on it, I took advantage of two opportunities to change my money habits: How I earn my money and how I spend my money.
First, I had the chance to rethink how I would rebuild my finances in a more resilient way. I had the benefit of a summer job that paid me very well, but the cost was putting everything on ice for 4 months and being cash-strapped all winter. It was also work that was becoming progressively more emotionally taxing. Though it was filling my financial resources, it was draining my other resources, time and relationships.
Now that I was back at square one, I could figure out how I would make money and build my career going forward. What deal-breakers and expectations would I use to guide my path?
I wanted work that would be non-committal and part-time that would allow me to put most of my effort into developing my life-coaching practice, or I wanted work that would dovetail with my coaching and create a balance between the two.
My patience paid off a year later when I found myself in a part-time position at the library that provided steady pay and benefits and had the added bonus of complimenting my work as a life coach.
In that prior year of forced frugality, I also thought long and hard about how I spent my money. When purchasing groceries and making rent is an existential crisis every month, it is amazing how your definition of "basic needs” shrinks. I was shocked at how little I actually needed and how much I could do without. At the same time, items I did purchase suddenly had so much more meaning and value because they required so much thought. For instance, when I returned to the island, I knew I would start volunteering at a horse barn again and hopefully riding regularly. I made the carefully considered decision to invest in a pair of red knee-high Hunter rainboots that set me back $140. I also bought a lightweight fitted down jacket for $150. It seemed extravagant at the time, but both items have held up perfectly over the last two years and I love slipping on my boots on a rainy morning or zipping up my down jacket and pulling up the hood on a windy afternoon.
What’s funny is that even though I have a bit more disposable income right now, I am still discerning and thoughtful about how I spend my money. Here are some of the rules I follow:
• No purchasing from Amazon - (Watch The Amazon Empire to learn why.)
• Is it a Need or a Want
• Buy it locally (If feasible)
• Buy it used (If possible)
• Must be built to last
Time is an equal opportunity resource in that everyone gets 24 hours. No amount of money or swagger will get you more than 24 hours, and it is up to each of us to make the best of it.
It might be used for working or playing or sleeping or creating... Whatever way you want to use your time, it’s your job to protect it because no one else will. When was the last time someone asked you, “Hey, how can I free up your schedule, so you have more time to do what you want?” (If someone has asked you this question, then I would encourage you to add this person to your relationship investment portfolio that we’ll talk about in the next section.)
When I was without steady work, I had plenty of time on my hands, and yet wasn’t entirely sure how to invest it. What actions would make the best use of my time? Something I started with was sleep. There was no reason to be sleep deprived when I really had no place to be. I coupled that with an early start time. Even if I had no place to be, I did my best to get out of bed between 6:30am and 7:30am. Presumably I would have some place to be some day and I wanted to be ready.
I also started spending a lot of time learning through reading, podcasts, documentaries and webinars. My learning wasn’t particularly focused, but I was always surprised to see where my new found knowledge was applicable. It changed the way I thought about problems and solutions. It added complexity to my conversations.
Other than those two items, defining the best way to investing my time, has proved to be an illusive and an on-going task. Yet, here are some rules I have been following:
• Will spending this time yield the desired result?
• Be honest about uncompleted “to-do” items (It’s okay to let things go if they are no longer important.)
• Will this use of time make sense a year later?
• Protect your time. (No one else will)
• Bust through laziness (procrastination)
• Examine resistance (fear)
If I had to choose one resource that has seen the greatest growth over the past two years, it would be my relationships. And it’s not because I am suddenly surrounded my inspiring people or because all the hot messes in my life magically walked off into the night. My relationships have never been stronger or more meaningful because I have been making intentional investments.
A willingness to have awkward conversations and feel the discomfort of setting boundaries has allowed me to remove the people who were distracting me from my goals and draining my energy.
Doing that has freed me up to reach out to people, who I admire and respect. I seek out people, who provide mutual support and are honest about who they are and what they are about. I’ve practiced the art of being brutally honest with myself and others. I am brave enough to speak up even when I don’t know where the conversation will go, and I trust that I will get the response I need, even if it isn’t the response I want.
I no longer feel pressure to be friends with everyone or stay in touch with people just for the sake of “being nice.” I save my energy and generosity for those, who appreciate it and will value me.
Here are some rules I follow:
It’s okay to walk away
Ask questions, even if you are afraid of the answers.
Healthy boundaries grow relationships
Be honest to yourself and them
Value being by yourself