Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Year in Review: Key Learnings and Inspired Action

The world shut down this year. I never thought I'd experience such a thing.  As 2020 comes to a close, and my birthday has just passed, I find myself experiencing a year in review.  It's nothing I do officially, but I find that there is an outtake reel that plays in my mind that plays a "best of" sequence which might be better relabeled a "most notable of" sequence.  While this might play like a bit of an "event checklist" in my mind, I find it good for my spiritual and financial practice to connect events to key learnings and inspired actions.  So, here are some of the most notable events in my personal year, and the subsequent takeaways.

Rental Property in Perspective

The cold, hard fact of 2020 is that our tenants have spent roughly equal amounts of time paying their rent versus not.  There were a number of months in a row where they were unable to make payments.  During that time, there were maintenance things that popped up albeit small ones.  None of this is good.  Owning rental real estate can be a huge risk.  This is especially true when you have a mortgage on the property, which we do (granted it's a small one).  

Key Learnings:  There were some practicalities of our situation that make this situation turn out fine.  We have a savings account earmarked specifically for the rental property to cover any emergencies or repairs.  This savings is built 100% from funds brought in by the property.  As of March 2020, it was equal to 5 months of mortgage payments.  This move really provided a lot of peace of mind for us.  Interestingly, we didn't even touch that savings account because of the second practical strategy we implement in our lives.  We choose to live off of one income.  Currently, we have two full-time incomes. So, when the tenants couldn't pay, we simply made the payment out of our own income and didn't have to use the savings account.  From a Law of Attraction standpoint, mindset was tremendously important in this area.  Neither my partner nor I were ever worried about whether or not the tenants could pay.  We were obviously in communication with our management company, and keeping up on the status of things, but we always adopted the attitude that it'll be fine.  The Law of Resistance tells us that which we resist, we draw unto ourselves.  So, we didn't spend any of our time or energy worrying about worst-case scenarios.  Rather, we chose to do that which felt good, and positive, and responsible.  We made the payments, communicated with management, and elected to feel good about our ability to weather this challenge. 

Inspired Actions: The purpose of analyzing the key learnings is to identify that which we feel inspired to do going forward. All of the above-mentioned strategies worked for us, and we will continue with them.  We've built our rental property's emergency savings (because of course, it has it's own) to 6 months of mortgage payments at this point, and we are happy with that number.  Having a second full-time income was huge in terms of our ability to handle this situation in a relatively worry-free manner, but I've been feeling a pull away from conventional full-time work.  For that reason, among others,  I've been feeling the pull to turn our attention to paying off the mortgage associated with the property.  Of course, this will probably begin after we move, which we intend to do this summer.  

Working from Home:

I had always been curious about the prospect of working from home.  I had suspected that I would be good at organizing my time appropriately in order to be successful in doing so. Given my primary job is as a teacher, it didn't seem like there would be much opportunity to gain any real experience in working from home to test my hypothesis.  Then 2020 struck, and the entire country pivoted to remote learning.  Regardless of its challenges, this gave me an opportunity to discover my feelings about working from home.

Key Learnings:  My partner and I save about $250 per month in transportation costs by working from home.  Additionally, we save approximately 80 hours per month that had previously been absorbed by our commute.  While we both utilized that time to listen to podcasts and educate ourselves about topics of interest, I am finding that we are both reaping tremendous benefits from the added time at home.  We are both exercising in the morning; we read more; I am spending more time researching investments, cooking, and meditating.  Furthermore, I've invested some of that time into further developing this blog, and participating in a group coaching program in the lifestyle development space.  I have also found that I enjoy working from home quite a bit and am able to be both organized and productive in my own environment.

Inspired Action:  Inspiration is a funny thing.  Often times, it just hits me.  It may seem like something that's been percolating for some time, but it won't fully hit me that it's something I want to do.  Then all of a sudden it strikes me like a bolt of lightning, and I know 100% what my next action will be.  I've invested in a group coaching program and been working from home, and somehow the culmination in those experiences resulted in me having the realization that there is a business I really want to start.  It is something that I am passionate about and is completely in my wheelhouse.  I will also be able to operate this business from home.  In fact, most of it would provide me location independence.  I've spoken about The Law of Commitment before, which suggests that if you commit to a thing that aligns with your purpose things will seem to simply fall into place.  The key mindset shift is that it is important to have no indecisiveness whatsoever.  The truth of the matter is that I have absolutely no indecisiveness about my business. It will be open in 2021.

 Processing Loss:

This year, I lost two family members that I love very much.  The grieving process is difficult under the best of circumstances, but add in a year like the one we've experienced, and it can be an intensified and isolating experience.  One family member crossed over in December of 2019.  The other on Easter in 2020.

Key Learnings:  In December, when I knew there was likely only a few days left, I flew to be by my family member's side.  I was with her the day she passed.  A couple of weeks later, I learned that this other family member was ill and things were progressing rapidly.  In February, we were scheduled for a week off from work.  So, my partner and I took the opportunity to fly to visit this family member.  Little did we know that would be the last time we would see him in his physical form. Within a month of our return, New York City was on lockdown and the epicenter of the pandemic.  Even if we would have flown to be by him as he crossed over, the hospital wouldn't have admitted us due to enhanced Covid-related restrictions.  I'm incredibly thankful that I listened to myself on both occasions and went. It's really easy to second guess yourself in the moment, but what I can offer is this.  You'll never regret the fact that you went.  Don't wait.  Just go.  Follow the love.  You'll never regret that.  You might on the other hand regret deciding to stay away.

Inspired Action:  I'm incredibly fortunate that I have an emergency savings.  These experiences reinforce my desire to maintain that standard in my life.  I want to have the freedom to go if someone I love falls ill.  Both of my family members had their affairs in order.  This makes me feel that I need to do the same.  First off, I need to make sure that my partner is fully aware of the various places where there are assets in my name, and I need to be aware of hers.  We need to double-check our beneficiaries in all of the appropriate places and start the processes involved in setting up a living revocable trust, will, durable power of attorney, etc.  That sounds like a lot for sure, but it'll be achieved one step at a time.


As a couple, we really don't spend much money.  We rarely eat out or do takeout; consumer purchases are rare.  The one thing we spend money on is travel!  We visit our families across the country each year and add a couple of camping trips, and another bigger trip to a destination yet explored for ourselves.  At this point, we haven't flown since February (for me, the top of March for her).  Once the pandemic hit NYC, we became incredibly uncomfortable with the notion of navigating airports and airplanes.  Quite frankly, we only take the subway or bus when absolutely necessary.  

Key Learnings:  We recognize that this is only for a season.  This year, we only really traveled via rental car (which we could disinfect thoroughly) to go on camping and hiking trips.  We both realized that this saved us a lot of money and we love doing it.  Even with a few equipment upgrades, we spent very little.  The biggest expense was the use of a rental car with insurance. We're going to be cautious and wait until the pandemic dust settles a bit before embarking on any major trips, but we've both realized that travel is a high priority for us and we need to continue to plan for that going forward.  If anything, this past year has shed light on just how much we miss exploring the world and yearn for more of it, not less.

Inspired Action:  We need to work travel expenses back into our budget this Spring.  I'm imagining that we won't go too far this summer, but will probably want to start preparing for that hopeful moment when we feel that things are safe.  Spending a lot of time camping and hiking in New York State has given us the opportunity to find a few little places that we really quite like  In the distant future, we might like to get a little lake house or a country cottage of sorts just a few hours outside of the city to utilize part-time when school isn't in session.  I think that would greatly improve our long-term lives.  In the world of personal finance, we often discuss sacrifice, but don't always remember to discuss dreams.  We're making choices with our money so as to live our best lives.  For us, that might include a vacation home.  Remember, the Universal Law of Belief states that you can have whatsoever you want so long as you can give up the belief that you can't have it.

Really, there was so much that transpired this year that this is just a small amount of it, but I find great value in reviewing the year that just passed as it comes to a close.  I realize that I've learned a lot and I've used it to influence my roadmap going forward.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Opening Doors: Inheritance and Disability

This year has been incredibly difficult, even under the best of circumstances.  The sheer amount of loss experienced feels weighty.  I personally have lost two family members in the past year.  On the day I write this, we would have been celebrating my late uncle's birthday.  I can't help but feel as though he crossed over too soon, and that on this day, there should be cake.  But alas there won't be cake. There will be a social media reminder of the candles we won't be blowing out.

I suppose there should be no surprise that this somewhat heavy topic is on my mind.  Just ten days ago marked one year since the passing of my grandmother.  She led a very full life, and her passing seemed as though it was a peaceful experience for her.  I am thankful for that.  Nonetheless, I miss the experience of her physical presence. 

I expected to feel an extra sense of my connection to these two family members this month given the notable days December provides.  While there is a sense of longing, there is also a great deal of gratitude.  Both of these people I love have left a legacy that remains with my family in forms both tangible and not.

There is an aspect to the Law of Attraction that can seem both simple and complex all rolled into one.  It's the concept of openness.  We have to open our hearts and our lives to make space for the arrival of the blessings coming to us.  I've discussed this concept where time is concerned, referring to the idea of eliminating obligations so as to create an opening for opportunities to flow into our experience.  But this week, I'm thinking about this differently.  As a result of the passing of the above-mentioned family members, another member of my family will be in line for an inheritance.  The truth is that this isn't the kind of blessing that I spend much time thinking about because it is accompanied by the passing of someone I love.  Who really wants to think about that?  But, we must think about it at least a little.  You see, the family member that I referred to as being set to inherit some money is a person with a disability.  This person receives (Supplemental Security Income) SSI and Medicaid.

SSI and Medicaid are benefits that come with intense restriction in terms of the amount of assets a person can have.  These limits are very low: $2000 for individuals and $3000 for couples.  It seems as though these asset limits haven't been updated in 40 years.  This restriction is a huge barrier that stands between people with disabilities and financial security.  If someone on SSI has assets over the limit, their monthly SSI check can be reduced as a result.  This creates a cycle of poverty and the inability to save money.  This also makes inheriting money (or any other asset) an issue.

How does this relate to openness?  Just as I want to open my experience to allow abundance to flow in, I want to create this openness for others in my life.  Right now, this asset limitation set for individuals with disabilities feels like a closed door.  But what if I told you there was a way to open that door? Would that inspire you to take action on behalf of someone you love that could really use an open door?

In 2014, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was passed.  Now, eligible people with disabilities are allowed to open 529 ABLE accounts.  These accounts, also known simply as "ABLE accounts," allow people with disabilities to actually have money.  Money in ABLE accounts are not subject to the SSI/Medicaid asset limits, nor is the growth taxable federally.  Much like with other 529s typically used for college savings, or retirement savings accounts, there are IRS imposed limitations on ABLE accounts. If an ABLE account grows beyond $100,000, the individual will lose their SSI, but not Medicaid.  There is also an annual contribution limit (in 2018 it was $15,000/yr).  Funds from ABLE accounts can be withdrawn for eligible expenses such as job training, housing, transportation, etc.  While this isn't a perfect solution, it's considerably better than the $2000 limit previously discussed.

Another option is a Special Needs Trust.  Sometimes these are also known as "Supplemental Needs Trusts."  In general, these accounts allow a person with a disability to hold assets inside of the trust and still qualify for their government benefits.  A person with a disability might coordinate the use of both an ABLE account and a Special Needs trust, or use just one of these tools.

I really wanted to create awareness of these two financial tools because they can create that openness I discussed before.  In my family's situation, there has been an ABLE account established.  This ABLE account creates an opening in their life so that any financial abundance flowing to them can be received.  I'm so grateful for that. 

 Obviously, if someone you know might benefit from one of these account types, you should have them consult with someone in their state with legal and/or financial expertise on these specialty accounts so that any rules and restrictions are clear.  But I hope this mini-overview of ABLE accounts and Special Needs Trusts has provided you with a little knowledge and inspiration.  If someone you know and love could benefit from these options, you could help open a door for them that might otherwise be closed.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Spending Time: Obligations and Intuition

I did something unusual this week.  I skipped a meeting.  In fact, I didn't even respond to the email that invited me to the meeting, requesting that I also help notify other people of the meeting.  I kept "meaning to" get to it, but I didn't.  The truth is that I just didn't feel like it.  On a weekly basis, I go to plenty of meetings that I don't really want to attend, ones required of me for my job.  But this one was different.  This one was purely elective, a self-imposed obligation. I have been participating on a committee that relates to Covid and education.  It is not at all required of me for my job.  I'm participating voluntarily.  I have been trying to do what I can to stay informed within an ever-changing situation, especially since this directly impacts my work, my partner's work, and many people we care about.  All week, I kept trying to rally the enthusiasm to respond to the email.  The enthusiasm never came.  So, I never responded.  Typically, this sort of behavior would have made me feel like a flake, but it isn't really striking me that way.  

I jokingly refer to myself as a person with an "over-inflated sense of duty."  I'm incredibly reliable, and pretty much always do what I perceive to be the right thing.  These are qualities that I truly love about myself.  I've also always said that our best qualities are oftentimes also our worst qualities.  The flip-side of this wonderful thing about me is that I allow myself to feel a sense of obligation to things unnecessarily.  This committee is the perfect example.  Since I joined it, I would obligate myself to attend every, single meeting, even the ones that were mostly social.  As soon as I received an email from one of them I would immediately respond.  If something was asked of me, I'd do it.  I would easily burn a couple of hours contacting people and attending meetings.  Some weeks, that's fine.  This week, I just didn't feel like it.  So, you know what I did instead?  I read a book and ate a cookie.  You know what's strange about that?  I didn't even finish a full chapter (but I did finish the cookie).  I'm so pleased with myself.  You know why?  I followed my intuition.  I did what I felt like doing, but only for as long as I felt like doing it. I've been doing that a lot lately.  The results have been remarkable.  

In the book Essentialism, author Greg McKeown writes "An editor is not merely someone who says no to things.  A three-year-old can do that.  Nor does an editor simply eliminate; in fact, in a way, an editor actually adds.  What I mean is that a good editor is someone who uses deliberate subtraction to actually add life to the ideas, setting, plot, and characters." I really enjoy framing this elimination of nonessential, undesired tasks as "editing." As a result of recent editing, I feel like my life has been more enjoyable; in a sense, more balanced.  I also feel like I've gotten a lot done, but on my terms rather than the constant strain of white-knuckling tasks for who knows what reason.  By editing my day, I actually add value.

Skipping a meeting isn't the only editing, I've been doing recently.  Teaching remotely has been a bit of an experiment for me (in a lot of ways).  One unintended result is a realization that my life is hugely impacted by my commute.  Working virtually has allowed me to eliminate my commute.  This has added approximately 8-10 hours of time back into my week.  What's truly amazing is that when we give ourselves the gift of time, we turn right back around and fill it up.  The manner in which we do so can be as deliberate or as random as we like.  I'm choosing to be very thoughtful about it with a preference for letting my intuition drive.  As previously stated, I am trying to fill my time doing that which I really feel like doing for as long as I feel inspired to do it.  Using this intuitive strategy I've re-evaluated my retirement accounts, researched some potential investments, read two books, exercised consistently, prepared my business to open in January, and spent more time connecting with people I care about.  These are all things I've done in the past month as a direct result of eliminating some things that I didn't care to do in favor of things I really felt like doing.  

Do you suffer from a case of the somedays?  Someday, I will research those companies I want to invest in.  Someday, I will deal with my retirement accounts, check up on my insurance coverage, start that business of my dreams.  Why are you putting it off?  Is it time-related?  Do you consistently feel like you don't have time to even get started on doing some of these things?  In the past, I have frequently found myself feeling that way.  I wanted to do all of these things but felt like there wasn't enough time to do them.  Meanwhile, I would fill my plate with obligations that I didn't even want.  Why am I spending two hours on a meeting that I don't even have to go to but not sitting down and fleshing out something for my future business?  I don't even want to go to the meeting (nor do I have to), but I do want to flesh out this little piece of my business.  I get excited and energized at the idea of sitting and working on the business, but feel tired and drained at the prospect of attending this meeting.  If I poke at this idea a little further to investigate the gains, I have to admit that not much would have come from the meeting.  This one wasn't very essential.  It was just about connecting, and I would have gotten that.  But how great would the quality of my connections be if I'm not really even that into it?  On the other hand, if I spend two hours working on something for my business that IS opening in January, the gains are tremendous.  The business will literally make me money and is a transition I am working on making for the long term.  It's work I'm really excited about.  So, working on this for two hours feels like a lot of fun to me.  

Maybe your "someday" is smaller than starting a business.  I have several books on my shelf that I promised myself I'd read someday.  Now, I tend to like reading books that you might loosely categorize as "self-improvement" books.  So, the gains of that kind of reading are obvious.  I'm also an actor and English teacher, and just enjoy reading novels, plays, the like.  If I decline this meeting and instead decide to sit and read one of them, the gain is in my quality of life, fueling my creativity.  What's the point of earning, saving, and investing all of this money if all I get in return is a life filled with obligations that I don't even want?  I suspect that there are plenty of members of the personal finance community that are like me in that some part of their motivation to gain financial independence is to buy their own freedom.  Many of us long for freedom of time.  It's one currency that we can't really get back once it's been spent.  So, I ask you: Are you obligating yourself to be in places you don't really want to be?  If you actually do have a choice, maybe you would be well served to do that which inspires you.  Maybe you should just do what I did: read a book and eat a cookie.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Loss, Compassion, and Giving

I was raised in a family that celebrates Christmas, a holiday that is surrounded by a myriad of family birthdays, including my own.  For some members of my family, this time of year holds a deeply spiritual significance. For others, it is a time to celebrate family, friends, our cultural heritage, and count our blessings.  This year, the lights went out in certain sections of my family, as not one, but two family members crossed over: my paternal grandmother, just one year ago, and my maternal uncle less than six mothers later.  When a light goes out somewhere, it's interesting the way our eyes adjust.  Despite the dark spots, our eyes seem more attuned to that which remains before us.  Hasn't this entire year been a little like that?  

Having experienced two subsequent losses, I feel hyper-aware of the family that I still have. I've tried to be a bit more deliberate with my contact this year, though I recognize my desire to do more.  When people experience the loss of family members, it is expected that they enter a process of grieving and reflection.  There's something powerful about allowing ourselves to live in that moment, and if we allow ourselves to be truly present in those moments, it seems that they can lead us to finding our more compassionate selves.  

When I look around me, I see so many lights going out in people's lives.  I have many friends experiencing extended unemployment, with no ending in sight.  People have lost loved ones.  Others have loved ones that they cannot safely see.  People are losing or near-losing their businesses.  Some are months behind on their mortgages and rent payments. This year looks incredibly different from previous ones, and it's okay to take a moment to recognize it.  We don't have to keep going along like we did before, because things aren't the same as they were before.  

A number of years ago, when I was in a much smaller income bracket, I released myself of the obligation of giving gifts that I couldn't afford (that people didn't really need or care for) because of a holiday tradition.  Generally speaking, I would usually elect to get something for my partner and parents; perhaps a friend here or there if I felt so inspired.  I felt a tremendous weight lifted, not realizing that this self-inflicted obligation was causing me injury.  No doubt, if you are reading this right now, you have experienced some level of loss in 2020; virtually everybody has.  If your loss has been largely financial, perhaps it is worth considering how giving might also look different this year.  Perhaps this is the year to relieve yourself of the obligation to buy, as I did years ago.  

Just as everything else in 2020 seems to look different, so do my intentions this year.  I feel a deep sense of compassion for the losses experienced by others.  In the past month, one of my students lost everything to a fire.  Another of my students just experienced the passing of her mother this month, and yet a third student of mine has a father on life-support.  Each time one of these situations arises, it really strikes me.  Not only is the emotional toll on these families absolutely devastating, but the financial burden is as well.  This is where some of my holiday dollars will go.  I recognize that my donations are a splash in the bucket compared to the need, but there is strength in the collective energies of our like-minds and hearts.  The Law of Fellowship suggests that when two or more people of a similar vibration come together for a shared purpose, their combined energy will be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled when directed at the attainment of that shared goal.

The question at hand is "Where should we be directing our energy?"  As we look around us, seeing so much devastation, can those of us that are doing well financially use some of our holiday dollars to do some real good?  It seems as though this can be accomplished through donating and gift-giving.  I am choosing to make some donations to these students' families, arts organizations (which have been obliterated during Covid), and some that relate to food, clothing, or medical needs.  As always, my gift-giving list is pretty small, but I am being very deliberate about what am purchasing, and where it comes from.  I am not going into stores because I do not want to expose or become exposed.  I have discovered that some of our favorite local "foodie" places ship all across the country.  There are deli's, restaurants, and local shops that I really want to see whether this storm.  So, I am ordering items from these places to be shipped directly to my family members.  I'm also using independent book stores, Etsy shops, and local artisans with direct shipping.  Lastly, I'm considering ways to slightly expand my giving list to include a few people that for a variety of reasons (some Covid-related) have experienced a greater level of isolation recently.  Is there someone in your family that is experiencing a first holiday alone?  Is there someone that is in a higher risk category and spent a significant time alone this year?  Could you bless a local flower shop with your business, and brighten their day with a freshly cut arrangement?  

We've been given an awful lot of time to think this year, and we still have the time to be deliberate with our selections.  Is this the year for you to alleviate yourself of some holiday obligations?  Do you feel moved to show some extra attention to someone that is experiencing isolation?  Can you shop local and ship direct to minimize risk and bless some business that you love?  Can you donate to some individuals and organizations that really need the help? If there are other inspirations you've had about giving this year, I look forward to hearing them.


Thursday, December 3, 2020

An Unconventional Life: Unwavering Belief

About 15 years ago, I completed a professional musical theatre training program and was just starting to establish my non-student life in NYC.  I was a woman with a mission.  I wanted flexible, part-time employment that would provide me with enough income to afford my new life and the ability to attend auditions simultaneously.  I was already employed a few hours a week working as a personal assistant for a retired actress in the Village.  It was probably the best gig I'd ever had, as I gained so much more from the experience than money.  The handful of hours per week I spent sitting at the table she'd had Burl Ives carry in from the street, drinking tea, and preparing my errand list for the day gave me the opportunity to gain wisdom and a deep friendship that would last the remainder of her life.  I earned enough money from this arrangement to keep me in groceries, and feed my desire to consistently consume art: my Lolita, as she used to call herself, used to offer me her second ticket in exchange that I assist her in getting to the theatre.  The joy earned from this experience far outweighed the money, and I needed to collect another job.  

My next-door neighbor had just gotten a job bussing at a restaurant in the neighborhood and told me that they were hiring wait and bussing staff, suggesting that I go down there with a resume and talk to the manager.  I had literally never worked in a restaurant but decided to give it a try.  I needed a job, and thought a free shift meal, in addition to nightly cash to work somewhere I could walk to would be a pretty good arrangement.  You see, I've always been the type to look for hidden benefits built into employment opportunities...  There were two managers, one of which I spoke to that day: a young woman with silky brown hair, very put together, and slightly intimidating to a girl who'd never worked in a restaurant before.  I can't imagine what she must have been thinking when we chatted, but she took a chance on me and gave me a job.  I was given a manual to memorize and immediately scheduled for their upcoming wine course, conducted by the other manager, a dapper, British gentleman who also happened to be a wine connoisseur.  Looking back I realize how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to learn from this gentleman.  Prior to his class, my only knowledge about wine was which kinds I liked, and he gave me the chance to learn so much more.  I met some truly wonderful people working at the cafĂ©, but truth be known, I didn't ever become truly good at waitressing.  My saving grace was that I had the "right personality" for it, and customers generally liked me.  I was competent (just barely), but was nowhere near the graceful ballerina that most professional waitresses appeared to be.  But, hey!  You're not really an artist in New York City if you haven't been a waitress, right?

Around the same time, a dear friend of mine, a teacher in the East Village, planted an idea into my mind.  She had helped me to secure a temporary gig at her school several months prior teaching a drama elective in the spring.  She told me that admin really liked me and that if I got set up with the DOE, they'd call me in as a sub when teachers were out.  I could make about $150 a day before taxes, and easily be called in a couple times a week; sometimes more.  I was thrilled at the opportunity and within a couple of months, I was on the payroll.

Nearly a year later, I had three friends getting married over the course of one summer, and I was to be involved in all three weddings.  I remember the first thought that entered my mind, "How am I supposed to try to get hired for a Summer Stock if I have to fly all over the place for these weddings?"  Well, when I'm committed to an idea, there's literally no stopping me.  As it turns out, this isn't unique to me, we're all like that.  The Universal Law of Commitment indicates that the key is in having no indecisiveness whatsoever.  If you commit to a thing that aligns with your overall purpose, things seem to simply fall into place.  Now, at the time, I didn't know anything about laws of the universe, but doesn't it seem like all throughout this story, I was doing exactly that?   

Well, the tale gets even more interesting.  I simply decided that it would be too difficult to attempt a Summer Stock somewhere, so I'd just produce a play in Portland where two of the weddings were going to be (and where I used to live).  I also decided that if I was going to produce a play myself, I "might as well just file with the IRS for nonprofit status," and I did.  It took me about three days, with help from a good friend (one that would be working with me).  Now let's just stop for a second.  Seriously, who does that?  Apparently, I do.  

I pressed pause on my three jobs, knowing they'd still be there willing to take me back when I returned several months later, and booked an airline ticket.  About a week before I was set to depart, I was chatting with a friend in Portland.  She's a kind and practical woman.  She asked me "So, where will you be staying?  Have you set that all up?  Do you have any part-time work lined up?"  I basically responded by telling her that I didn't know on either account but that I wasn't all that worried about it, and the truth is that I didn't know, and I wasn't worried about it.  I just believed that it would all be fine.  I had a few thousand dollars and a lot of friends.  That was plenty, right?

It turns out that it was plenty! I had two friends with spare rooms that gave me keys to their homes, and a couple of friends that were in positions to hire me on a part-time basis.  I almost immediately became employed in a local gift shop and for a friend that really just needed a personal assistant because he was working so many hours between his two programming jobs.  He really needed help getting things accomplished in his personal world.

The truth is that I bounced back and forth like this for about two years before I started producing so much theatre on the West Coast that I decided to stay put for a few years.  It was one of the happiest times in my life thus far.  But why was it successful?  

First, when I look back I see that I was operating from a place of unwavering confidence.  I was going to become employed in both cities in a manner that was flexible, and provided enough income.  I was also going to be granted nonprofit status.  I was going to successfully collect the people, venue, etc., required to produce theatre.  There was literally never any doubt!  Again, the Universal Law of Belief tells us that we can have whatsoever we want so long as we can give up the belief that we can't have it. "The belief that we can't have it" is a phrase that speaks directly to the limiting beliefs we seem to build over time. What's interesting to look back upon is the fact that it doesn't seem that I had any limiting beliefs in this arena.  So, this universal truth is speaking to the idea that in order to have anything we want, we must be willing to release our limiting beliefs.  Limiting beliefs come directly from the mind, not your inner being.  The mind's ultimate job is to protect us, and it does a tremendous job, however; in the process, it also adds the perception of limitations that aren't always there.  Thinking back to this snapshot of success from my past, it occurs to me that I didn't really give my mind a chance to develop these limiting beliefs.  It seems that I gave my mind better things to work on, in addition to ample evidence that there wasn't much to worry about.  I kept my mind very busy trying to work out the logistics of producing my first play.  It didn't have a lot of time to stew on unnecessary, self-inflicted drama.  I was also able to rationalize that I didn't really need much money.  I wasn't sure where I was staying, but I knew that I could cobble things together given the sheer volume of kind and generous friends I had in the area.  I had sublet my room in Brooklyn, so I didn't need to worry about bills there.  My student loans hadn't become due yet, so I wasn't in repayment for them.  I had one tiny little credit card, a cell phone bill, and needed to feed myself; I had a few thousand dollars and figured that I didn't have much to panic about financially speaking.  Even if things didn't work out the way I would have liked them to, I didn't have much to lose.  It was an adventure either way, and either way, I was going to be just fine.  There was nothing standing between me and taking the action I desired, primarily because I cut limiting beliefs off at the pass.

It seems as though limiting beliefs are the enemy of inspired action, and they're easy to have where money is concerned.  But we can't make progress if we're unwilling to take inspired action when it comes to us.  It isn't enough to merely want, you have to take a step toward something if you are to have it.  In this way Law of Attraction and The Law of Inspired Action are inseparable.  Had I told myself "I can't afford to do something like THAT" I would have missed out on the most incredible adventure of my life.  Because I was willing to take action, I started my nonprofit, produced more than 20 shows, met my beautiful partner, and ended up with our first rental property.  Some of this might sound unrelated, but the truth is none of them would have happened had I been too afraid to step on that airplane.  I can't imagine my life without that experience.  I am also realizing that I was able to utilize personal finance to protect myself from a limiting belief setting in.  The fact that I had very low expenses and a few thousand dollars in my account gave me confidence in my ability to spring into action.  Had I only $20 and a lot of bills, I might not have even bought the ticket, let alone gotten on the airplane.  On a mental, emotional, and spiritual front I can see that being 100% committed to my goal, and having unwavering belief in that goal was absolutely key.  

Now I'm 15 years older, and my mind likes to yell at me about things like health insurance, retirement, and a much larger savings target.  As we grow older, it's altogether too easy to find ourselves adhering to society's standards.  But society's standard doesn't have to be my standard, and the same wisdom still applies.  I can insulate myself financially, and maintain absolute certainty about that which I am pursuing.  In that respect, we can quite literally live the dream.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Practicing Gratitude to Attract Abundance

As the holidays approach, I find that my thoughts keep wandering back to my niece.  She's a kind and intelligent little girl.  She loves to laugh, sing, make up stories, and is often the case with other kind and intelligent children, she desperately wants a puppy.  She dialed this order in to Santa, her parents, the tooth fairy, and anyone who might listen a solid year ago...  Her parents, on the other hand, weren't nearly in such a hurry to grant this fairly adamant wish.  Like any intelligent set of parents, they wanted to test their daughter's ability to handle the responsibility of a puppy.  They cleverly devised a system.  They drew up a chart with a list of chores that she should be doing weekly.  It was explained to her that she would need to prove that she could: A.) Do the chores, and B.) Make this a routine that didn't require them to constantly remind her about.  In other words, they were looking for initiative and responsibility.  Could their daughter remember that there were things that she needed to do without her parents' constant reminder?  Could she handle the responsibility of completing the same boring and occasionally even annoying task week in and week out?  On the surface, this test seems simple enough; however, closer inspection reveals a rather clever design.  My niece is still a very little girl.  So, her chores are incredibly simple: watering house plants, putting toys away, making her bed, cleaning her room.  

My niece's chore list all seem to have a commonality.  They all require her to treat something in her life with respect.  For example, take something simple like putting the toys away.  Have you ever noticed that parents get very upset with their children when this doesn't happen?  They don't like the mess, but they recognize that every time they buy a toy for their child, it costs them money.  Toys cost money; money costs time.  When the toys are left out to be stepped on and broken, I can't help but wonder if some of the frustration comes from the idea that their time has been devalued.  The simple act of putting the toys away when they're not in use is a highly suggestive act.  It reveals an underlying attitude of respect for the object, and gratitude for having it in your life. Moreover, parents seem to be a bit more generous when they feel like the items they've given are appreciated.  In fact, isn't this just human nature?  No one wants to give you a gift if you didn't appreciate the previous one, right?

This situation involving my niece provides some very real-world insight into the practice of gratitude.  

Recently, we've discussed several laws of the universe, ideologies containing elements of universal truths intended to help us navigate the flow of life.  Some of these universal laws are centered around the idea of "awareness."  The Universal Law of Gratitude is almost entirely focused on awareness and is one of the building blocks of an abundant life.

The Universal Law of Gratitude is simple in its suggestion that gratitude breeds abundance.  In other words, the more things you are grateful for, the more you will attract things into your experience to be grateful for.  A gratitude practice is the cornerstone of a Law of Attraction practice.  This is also why it pays to treat our money with respect, even if it appears that you only have a little of it.  It is absolutely imperative that you handle that which you already have with love and respect.  Sometimes, I hear people sing songs of complaint about how "broke" they are, and that their rent is too high, or that they "can't" save money.  I've been guilty of this myself in past years, but I must say, we have to practice a different way.  These ideas are quite literally money repellant.  We must reframe these ideas.  Again, I repeat: This takes practice.  If we want to have more in our life experiences to appreciate, we must demonstrate that we are grateful for what we've already got.  Otherwise, we are simply demonstrating with our behavior that we don't want the responsibility of having more of it.  

Money is a responsibility, and just like my niece wants to be worthy of having a puppy, I too want to be worthy.  I want to be worthy of the responsibility of handling more money.  So, first I must demonstrate my gratitude for that which has already been entrusted to my care.  As I've referred to before, we must stop the record of limiting beliefs that we've been playing over and over again.  As illustrated by the previous example, none of us are "broke."  We cannot tie our identities to such ideas, and must replace them with ones that lend themselves to gratitude: I am perfectly capable.  Rather than the complaint that "my rent is too high," perhaps it is worth considering whether or not you would like to be a homeowner one day?  That might also be considered an expensive endeavor.  So, a replacement idea might be in the realization that this experience is preparing you for the responsibilities of homeownership.  It's entirely too easy to claim that "I can't save money" if you're looking at the gap between where your savings account is at currently versus where you would like it to be.  But could you bring yourself to look at each dollar you did save with love and admiration?  Could you appreciate each and every one of those dollars and even yourself for what you were able to do?  If you can love and appreciate what you did, and what is already there, you are demonstrating through your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that you want the responsibility of more to come into your experience.  You can choose to use your attitude to either attract abundance or to repel it.  The choice is yours.

Practicing gratitude for that which we can see is only one part of the equation; practicing gratitude for that which we don't see is the other part.  It often feels more difficult.  Interestingly, it seems easy for us to notice the "lack" of something in our experience.  Again, this focus on "lack" is directly related to the limiting beliefs that we must continuously work to catch and release.  I would challenge you to work on being grateful for that which you cannot easily see.  Look at what's there. Ask yourself: What would I really notice if it were missing?  My health.  The fact that I have savings and available credit.  I would miss that I can keep up with my rent/mortgage/bills.  If suddenly, it was taken for me, I would really miss the fact that I get to work from home and have wonderful benefits like health, dental, vision, 401k, and many others.  I would miss the overwhelmingly positive response I'm getting from people regarding my business.  I would miss the relationships in my life.  Perhaps, if I would miss the absence of these things so intensely, they are the very things that deserve my gratitude now.

As Americans enter a time where giving thanks is a deeply ingrained tradition, I challenge you to look at your own gratitude practice.  How can you practice gratitude every, single day, and demonstrate through your behavior that you are ready, willing, and able to accept the responsibility of more abundance in your experience?

...and for those of you that may be wondering, yes, my niece is getting her puppy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Align to Design a Life You Love

I've been working to design a life I love for some time now, and things are certainly headed in the right direction.  Some of this work has been on my own, while some of it has been in a group setting with my friends at The Fioneers.  There's something about the process of deliberately designing your life that requires you to stop and take stock of that which you've built around you because the truth is that there is nothing you've surrounded yourself with that has come to you by accident.  Much of our current life's circumstance is the direct result of our past thoughts, feelings, and subsequently behaviors.  

Ten years ago, I was living on the West Coast, living a life by my own design.  I was producing a lot of theater, had wonderful friends, and enjoyed my community.  I had also designed my way into a situation where I was felt a bit stuck.  I couldn't see a path to a higher income or higher level of theatrical success, both of which were important to me.  These were desires which were starting to come up within me.  I could envision myself returning to New York (where I had previously lived), and having greater income opportunities as well as theatrical ones.  What began to happen was remarkable.  I remembered how much I enjoyed working as a substitute teacher when I had been living in the city, and the pleasure I derived from helping students.  I remembered the vibrant energy that filled me as I walked through the bustling streets on a Spring afternoon.  I was inspired to do a bit of research and learned about a handful of programs that existed in New York City that were geared toward training teachers.  They were remarkable opportunities: a Master's Degree with no added debt, and a salary while earning the proper credential.  I knew instantaneously that I would be accepted into one of these programs, and return to the city.  

The Universal Law of Commitment suggests that the key to having that which you desire is in having no indecisiveness whatsoever.  It states that if you commit to a thing that aligns with your overall purpose, things seem to (almost magically) fall into place.  

Fall into place, they did.  It seemed almost absurd that these programs would select me when they had so many local applicants that might seem less of a gamble than I.  But the truth is that I didn't even give my mind the opportunity to think about that.  I believed with everything in my being that this was going to happen for me; and then it happened.  This manifestation felt miraculous to me, but let me be clear.  It wasn't without action on my part.  I did my part mentally and emotionally first.  I was fully committed to the understanding that this would happen for me.  That being said, people aren't giving you jobs, fellowships, opportunities you don't ask for!  In other words, I had to ask for what I wanted.  Then, I had to take inspired actions.  I had to apply for the program, collect recommendations, prepare for group interviews, fly across the country to interview for these programs.  I didn't wish a wish, do nothing, and then be surprised my life hadn't changed.  Simultaneously, I didn't take any actions that felt upstream for me. All of the actions I took felt good and felt right at the time.  I felt the wave of internal inspiration that made me act.  If an action felt really grinding or uphill to me, I didn't take it because it wasn't flowing.  In fact at that time, in my West Coast life, there were some things that were flowing, but there were some other things, and important ones at that, that were starting to feel very uphill.  I can't help but believe that it was like that so as to help me to redirect myself into the flow of my desired life.  

There's a funny thing about our desired life:  It is constantly changing.  But isn't it a little bit fun to hit a moving target?  My life desire is shifting a bit.  I feel myself wanting greater freedom.  Within that shifting desire, I am starting to see the path:  I see me working part-time; that's unusual in the realm of education, but I'm fully committed.  I only plan to choose that which flows for me.  I'm not exactly sure how that will come about, but I will keep my eyes wide open, and be ready to take action when the right situation comes along.  The truth is, that this is a medium-range plan in terms of time frame.  I am not looking for it to happen tomorrow, as we're on track to hit Coast-FI within the next two years, but if the opportunity comes sooner, we're open to it.  

In order to be open to an opportunity, we must align ourselves to it in the present moment.  Alignment means being open mentally and emotionally, making ourselves a vibrational match to that which we want.  But it also means preparing your life situation or environment for a potential shift.  People that are expanding their families or beginning to work from home align their spaces by preparing nurseries and offices at home.  What about our finances?  How do we align ourselves financially for that which we desire? What does it mean to get prepared for opportunities that could create a huge life-shift?  While I don't expect a huge shift of this nature to happen tomorrow, I must do the preparation that feels good in the now.  We cannot live in the past, or in the future.  Now is the only moment in which we can live; therefore, we can only really deal with the past or the future "on the level of the present," as Eckhart Tolle suggests.  

This is where visualization is incredibly helpful.  I ask myself, "If a huge, life-shifting opportunity were to come right now, what things would make it really easy to accept?  What would make it flow?"  The mind in me has a lot of ideas to offer (it loves to throw shade on an otherwise bright and sunny pathway).  It offers: What about medical/dental insurance coverage, retirement savings, liquid savings, and monthly income needs?  These are the things that can be taken action upon right now.  The opportunity that comes to me might or might not include insurance.  If it does, great.  If not, what are my options?  I can find out about these things now.  Right now, I can control my knowledge of my options.  It turns out that if my partner and I file domestic partnership in our state, I can simply be added to her insurance plan, which is identical to mine, and will not cost us any more.  Easy.  Monthly income needs: I don't know what my future opportunities look like, and I'm confident that they will provide me with plenty of money, but is there something I feel inspired to do right now?  Paying off our rental will increase our monthly take-home substantially; the side business I am starting will also provide some income.  Liquid savings: We're already saving quite a bit; just keep going.  Retirement savings: we're already contributing to our pensions; and there's a lot going into my Roth 401k.  I feel really good about that.  We have Roth IRAs, could open solo 401k's with the opening of our new business (as that's a special type of retirement account for the self-employed).  Being so close to Coast-FI, this isn't a huge concern, but rather, a mini-consideration.

One thing that I find on my mind is considering the length of time my partner will wish to work full time.  We check in periodically about this, and she has indicated to me that she doesn't have any "end date" in mind.  That being said, my soul's desire is to be prepared for her to change her mind at any point in time.  At the end of each school year, I want her to have to choose either to work another year or not.  Plain and simple.  I don't want our life decisions to be based on golden handcuffs.  If she chooses to work full time for another five years, her pension will be secured; another ten years (beyond May) will secure our health insurance through our retirement.  That would be our ideal, and that knowledge makes me feel very secure.  But, I cannot control the future, nor can I live in it.  Despite nearing Coast-FI, what can be done is further padding our retirement by way of her retirement accounts.  Also, she is the older of the two of us and will reach the traditional retirement age sooner, meaning we'll easily be able to access her retirement funds sooner than mine.  This is another reason why we might want to bulk her account up a bit more. Recently we bumped her contribution level up by a couple percent, but I think we'll do that several more times over the course of this school year.  Having a larger nest-egg could go a long way in compensating for the possibility that we "miss the mark" on securing health insurance for life.  While I'm very much attracted to that dangling carrot, I don't feel good about requiring her to keep doing something for that reason alone.  So, I feel inspired to "buy the choice."  

So, while I mentally and emotionally line up to the possibility of a life-shift that will bring greater freedom into my experience, I will also line up my finances and open the door of allowing these things to happen.  Right now that looks like: increasing her retirement savings and paying off the rental (which was already our intention).  What are the opportunities you're trying to align yourself to?  What things do you need to put into place, financially or otherwise, to be able to say "yes" if those opportunities should arise?  Taking appropriate inspired action now can line you up to an easy "yes" when it arrives.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Unlimited: Playing Catch and Release with Limiting Beliefs

Do you ever stop to think about why you expect things to be so hard?  I grew up hearing that "Hard work pays off."  In some respects, perhaps that paid off.  I am a "hard worker," a loyal friend, coworker, and employee.  I have a lot of attributes that make me someone that people want to hire, work with, and keep around.  These are all good things, but I can't help but think about some of the negative impacts the "Hard work" mentality has given me.  

Perhaps my problem is in the phrasing alone.  The connotation of "hard work" may have done as much damage as it has good.  While I believe that any "job worth doing is worth doing well," I'm not sure that "hard" has to come into play.  Over many years of psychological conditioning, it seems that it has set me up to having some limiting beliefs that are not serving me well.

I spend many years believing that work was something to be endured.  Isn't that the essence of "hard work?"  If it felt like play, would it really be "work" at all?  If it filled me with joy, didn't that mean I wasn't working "hard" enough?  If I spent all of my time with my head in the clouds pursuing my theatrical passions, did that mean I wasn't being adult enough?  I mean, seriously!  They call it a "play."  Ironically, plays are really a lot of work, but I digress...

I got used to the idea that "fun things" shouldn't make me money because they weren't really "work," and if they felt like play, then they weren't really "hard."  So, this meant I was violating the sacred policy that "hard work pays off."  But did it actually pay off?

I spent a number of years working in positions that I liked, but also detoured me from what I felt to be my larger purpose.  But hey!  That's "hard work," right?  I also stayed for too long.  I would walk right up to the line of misery and then stay for a few more years.  Isn't it supposed to be hard? Did it pay off?  Not really, I stayed too long.  I took time away from my larger purpose.  I was underpaid.  I didn't advance (which is fine, because I didn't really want to, but still).  When eventually, I moved on I didn't particularly feel ahead in my overall purpose, career, satisfaction level, or financial wellbeing!  Yet, "hard work" pays off?

I decided to get trained in something that I found very interesting, and has the ability to create a pretty nice income.  It's "hard" intellectually speaking, but somehow fun for me.  Sounds like a winner, right?!  Well, sort of...  Enter our friend "Limiting Belief!"  I took that training and started working for someone else that absorbed entirely too much of my time for very little pay.  There are some industries where you theoretically have to "pay your dues," but doesn't it make sense to at least look at the whole picture to ask yourself? While I enjoy this particular career area, do I enjoy it in this context? Will this situation get better?  Will they pay me what I'm worth?  Are they taking advantage of my skills, but robbing me of my time and my money?  

So, why do we do this?  Why do we continuously accept the wrong position, with the wrong people, for the wrong pay?  Why do we buy into the idea that work should be endured; that we shouldn't make money doing fun things?

Much like the Law of Attraction, The Universal Law of Self-Worth states that you can only attract that which you feel worthy of attracting.  It's very difficult to admit that you don't feel worthy of something; it feels entirely more vulnerable than most people's comfort level will allow.  Yet, we all have those areas, and many times they can be found in relation to work and money.  If I grew up believing this "hard work" ideology, it has set me up to believe that what I am worthy of is a position that will "allow me the opportunity to experience work as being hard."  Well, I got that.  In both the above examples, I experienced work as being hard.  And if the belief is that it takes "hard work to get ahead," and my goal is to get ahead, I am likely to keep putting myself in positions to experience work as "hard" rather than leaving them in favor of something that feels better.

What I, like many other people need, is some new programming.  There are two more Universal Laws that offer some wisdom that I find helpful.  The first of these is the Law of Release; let go of anything you no longer have use for.  This requires a certain amount of self-awareness.  We must realize that we are holding something that doesn't serve us.  Since we know that these things come up over and over again, we must continually watch our thoughts and catch the ones that aren't serving us well.  When I catch myself thinking that fun things and financially lucrative things aren't the same; I must notice, stop myself and let it go.  This will take practice, but it's worthwhile if the thought or belief doesn't serve our greater good.   The Law of Belief suggests that you can have whatever you want so long as you can give up the belief that you can't have it. So, the two ideas work in tandem.  In order, catch myself thinking the thought associated with limiting beliefs; practice releasing it; replace it with the thing I desire.

Reprogramming ourselves takes practice.  I am currently working on extending my business, the details of which will roll out shortly.  In the process, I find myself running into some limiting beliefs.  I catch my mind resurfacing old ideas.  It says things like "If you really want to help people, you can't charge them!  If you're going to make money, it shouldn't be that much!  Work is supposed to be hard, not fun!"  The first step is to catch it.  I notice that my mind is doing it again, and literally tell it to stop.  Stop the mind dead in its tracks the moment it comes.  At the very least if you can stop it from circulating the thought over and over again, you're moving in the right direction.  That part get's faster over time.  Then feed the mind a new idea, "People choose which things to spend money on, and do so if they feel it adds value to their lives. My prices are industry standard prices.  It is good to enjoy things and earn money doing those same things."  Saying such things one time, doesn't change years of programing.  We must be gentle with ourselves, and recognize we're going to have to play "catch and release" with our limiting beliefs for some time.  That's okay, it will eventually become second nature.

Now, my example involves one that I am currently running into in my own experience.  I challenge you to consider where you have limiting beliefs where money or career is concerned.  Do you have beliefs about "good people and wealth" going together, or what happens "every time you have money in the bank" or that you "will never be able to retire?"  I challenge you to try this week to catch some of your limiting beliefs.  Practice stopping yourself, and replacing the thought with a new belief, one that will serve you better.

I'd love to hear how it goes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Path of Least Resistance

If there's anything that living through this global pandemic has taught me, it's the art of being deliberate and thoughtful with my actions.  I the morning, I would mask up just before leaving the house to get on bus number one, then bus number two.  Enter the school building; immediately hand sanitize on my way to move my timecard and drop my backpack and coat at my desk; walk down to the restroom to wash my hands; return to my room; sanitize again.  This ritual has become second nature in my life, as in the lives of many others.

The other day, I finished teaching my in-person class and left to catch one of my two busses heading home.  As I stood in my place toward the back of the bus, my eyes happened upon a woman standing just a few feet from me.  She was talking to another woman, wearing her mask as a chin guard.  I turned my back toward her so as to avoid breathing where she exhaled.  Just as I positioned myself to have my back to her, I glance up again only to see that the old man seated a few feet in front of me had his mask below his chin, and the teenager two seats away had no mask at all.  This one particular commute illustrates a tremendous source of inner turmoil I've been faced with recently (since Labor Day really).  Every day that I teach in-person at my school, I am required to take four busses to commute there and back.  While the MTA may be taking appropriate action to sanitize busses and trains, I have been interacting with people whose  perspective on safe practices are in discord with my own.  

The Law of Resistance states that anything in which you resist, you draw unto yourself.  While I do my best to practice detachment in those moments on the bus and draw my attention to something that feels positive, I can definitely say that I have some resistance in that area.  What is resistance?  If you distill it down to its very basic essence, resistance is fear.  There's a funny thing about resistance, aka fear: you will encounter fear over and over again.  It will literally keep reproducing itself until you are forced to deal with it.

Strategies for Dealing with Fear/Resistance:

1.)  Change your mindset.

The last few weeks, we've spent some time talking about focusing on the present moment, as it is the only moment we're actually able to actively live within.   Focusing on the now really helps lower resistance because fear is largely attached to the future.  We need to practice centering ourselves by pulling our minds into the current moment.  Glance out the window and notice the raindrops or leaves falling.  Really watch them.  Perhaps, glance inward and notice how you are actually feeling in that moment.  If you try this you will notice that it is much more difficult to feel resistance (or fear) while you actively stare down the fear itself.  Once it has lessened just a bit, ask yourself "What can I do right now?" There are likely to be options, at least one of which will strike a chord with you.  If the situation that causes resistance is one that is likely to keep surfacing, it might also be worth considering "Is there a way to practice the manner in which I handle these situations that lesson my resistance to them?"

2.)  Change the situation (or your place within the situation).

Sometimes the situation causing the resistance literally doesn't need to happen.  Moreover, if it does need to happen, maybe my role within it is one that can be altered?  Do I need to be a part of this situation at all?  If so, do I need to interact with this situation the same way I have in the past (that has caused me resistance)?  It's important to realize that changing your position with regards to a situation isn't the same as ignoring it in order to avoid dealing with the problem. Remember, fears of a similar nature will continue to resurface over and over again until you find a way to deal with it.  

Strategies in Practice:

There are people in my life that have a lot of resistance surrounding the idea of retirement.  Many of them have a scarcity mindset.  They're resistant to the idea of investing, fearing that they will lose all of their money because investing is complicated and they don't understand it.  One such friend panics internally whenever related conversations come up.  First address the mindset.  This fear isn't actually a fear about what's going on right now.  Right now, this person is fine.  They're earning enough money, have some liquid savings, and spend less than they make.  This fear is 100% future based.  Starting by recognizing that they're not in a "dire place" right now is critical.  Next, consider what can be done right now?  They could open a brokerage account and fund an IRA, find an investment professional to help them, or start contributing to the 401k at work.  After considering what could be done right now, they might consider which of these options is the "path of least resistance?"  Yes, I am advocating for the path of least resistance.  They're already dealing with huge amounts of resistance and we're trying to lessen that.  Why would we want to select the hardest, most anxiety-producing option?  In this scenario, starting up the work 401k might feel manageable.  Then, when this fear comes back up (and we know it will), they can tell themselves that they've already started taking steps to address this, and invalidate that fear.  It will take time and practice to alter the course of a mindset that has been practiced over and over again.  But repeating the little actions that can be taken right now can and will help.  Especially if you consciously remind yourself that the fear is invalid or unnecessary when it comes back up.

There are other instances where changing the situation becomes necessary.  Before I started teaching, I had become extremely unsatisfied with my job.  I was greeted with a lot of resistance on a regular basis.  I felt that I worked too hard for way too little money, and no longer felt passionate about the work.  I felt like getting ahead was virtually impossible. Plus, there were certain tasks that really annoyed me.  First, I reflected on my mindset, asking myself whether or not there were things I still enjoyed doing there.  Next, I changed worked with my manager to change my position within the situation.  I switched into a slightly different role that provided me with more of the tasks I enjoyed and less of the ones that I didn't. I knew that I still wasn't entirely satisfied so I thought about what I would enjoy.  I thought back to some of the happier employment situations I had been in, and realized that I enjoyed teaching, and wanted to live in NYC again.  So, I started taking the actions that I could take in that moment, which included applying for programs that would help me become credentialed and employed teaching in NYC.  Within months, I was moving back to the city, and starting along a new career path.  I utilized the present moment to address my mindset, I changed my position within my existing situation, took inspired actions, and ultimately changed my situation entirely.  As an added bonus, addressing the resistance I was experiencing resulted in having my master's degree paid for and my income more than doubling.

Some of you may be wondering what has become of my current situation.  About a month ago, I made an appointment with my partner's primary care physician (I liked her so well I made her mine as well).  We looked at my labs, documented my family medical history, and chatted about my dietary and exercise routines.  At the end of the visit, she provided me with a letter suggesting that I should teach remotely in order to be cautious.  That same evening, I filed the appropriate request.  After that, I didn't really spend much time thinking about it.  I merely went on with my daily life.  Approximately three weeks later, I received notification that my request had been granted.  I am permitted to continue teaching remotely.

You see, the source of my resistance was related to being in crowded public places during this pandemic.  It didn't feel like something I wanted to be doing. Yet, I love my students and want to be able to provide them with the support they need.  When greeted with this resistance, I realized that it would be best for me to advocate for myself in an effort to change my position within the situation.  Now, I get to work with my very same students; It's simply the context that's changed.  

Remember, the art of overcoming resistance involves confronting the fear itself.  Sometimes, it's best to go with the simplest method of doing so whether it be a slight mindset shift, or changing your position within a situation, or the situation itself.  The path of least resistance isn't necessarily a bad thing!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Escaping the Past and Avoiding the Future

I've received a smattering of correspondences lately from individuals that are either terrified of their future or angry about their past.  It's an irresistible trap, but a trap nonetheless.   All these thoughts are good for is to serve the egoic mind, creating fuel for an illusion.

"To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation."

         - Eckhart Tolle, Practicing The Power of Now

Being trapped in time...  That's a huge issue where personal finance is concerned.  It's a trap that not only damages our relationship with money but also prevents us from living our best lives because we aren't paying any attention to it.  Our lives are happening right now.  While that might sound obvious, it's a thought worthy of attention.  Our lives are happening right now and we need to be present for it.

One woman expressed to me that she was experiencing a lot of negative emotions around a choice she had recently made with her money.  She allowed herself to spend a large sum of money, in a nonrefundable manner and was plagued with guilt, remorse, and self-loathing over the situation.  There was a moment when she realized what the result of her past behavior had created, and she very quickly reached out to me.  I could feel the emotion pouring from her as though we were sharing a moment in a confessional.  I'm still uncertain as to whether she was looking to be absolved or punished, neither of which I had the power to offer her.  She knew she never wanted to feel that way again. So, I invited her to consider "What does this inspire you to do?" She told me that this situation made her want to save money.  I asked her if there was anything else.  She offered that she wanted to open a CD (certificate of deposit) for a chunk of her savings so that it would be "locked up" so to speak.  She wanted to make it a little more difficult for herself to get at, but not impossible in a true emergency.  

This is what it looks like to reach for the better feeling, while simultaneously getting out of the mind-time trap.  This woman's mind was tricking her into living and reliving through memory, but that moment is gone.  The money was already spent.  The only value in reliving this memory was extremely temporary; the value lied in allowing her the opportunity to identify that she didn't care to repeat that feeling, nor the action that leads her to it.  From that moment of recognition, it is absolutely imperative to re-engage with the present moment.  Asking yourself  "What does this inspire me to do right now?" feels significantly better and more empowering.  There's no power in living in the past because we cannot take action there.  We cannot alter those past moments.  We can only use them to inspire our current actions.

The second person that I encountered this week had a related but opposing issue.  She is very much concerned with her future.  She is riddled with anxiety over her future retirement, as she is certain that she doesn't have enough.  The scarcity mindset that she is suffering from has left her all but paralyzed.  It is as if she's been zapped by a taser and rendered unable to move.  Furthermore, she is unhappy with where life is currently, and has projected this misery upon her future.  It seems that she has allowed her mind to trap her into a cycle of projection into the future, as she anticipates unhappiness from now until always.

It can be incredibly powerful to allow the mind to wander a bit to the future in order to try on the idea of an experience we might want.  In this way, it could inspire a current action, which can set us in alignment with that desired outcome.  However, it is dangerous to spend our present moment living in anticipation of the future, especially when it leads to ignoring the present.  This woman is largely unwilling to act.  It seems as though she is petrified of the outcome being exactly as she expects it (and she expects it to be miserable), but in the process of taking no action, it seems that she has taken an action.  No action is action, and it is an action that is unlikely to yield a desirable result.  You see, every day that she wakes up unhappy, and takes no action, is a day she continues in the flow of misery.  Now, why would you do that?  Well, the answer is that you wouldn't.  Not intentionally anyway.  She doesn't realize that she's playing into the mind's little trap.  

So, how do we get out of it?  There are a couple of different things happening here.  First, she's living largely in anticipation of the future (negatively at that).  Secondly, she is unhappy with the present (her employment actually).  Finally, she's afraid to take action.  As we've discussed, no action is action.  The reason someone would take no action is largely fear-based.  If the expectation is that the outcome of said action would be equal to or greater than the current level of misery, then the mind tells us not to bother.  The first thing that needs to happen is we need to delete the file in our brain that is labeled "the future."  The mind has assigned a series of fears to this file called "future" and is replaying that file over and over again.  Just delete it.  What we have is now.  

Now let's visit that now.  In the present moment, she is unhappy with work and concerned with her financial picture, feeling ill-prepared for retirement.  In these instances, I like to play "I would feel really good if."  She would feel really good if her work-life felt pleasant.  She would also feel really good if she was able to save a certain amount of money on a monthly basis."  So, how can we make those things flow?  What can she do that will make work more pleasant?  Are there some adjustments in this current job that would make it a positive situation?  Would it feel better to be employed elsewhere?  This is where the individual emotional compass comes it.  She might need to "try on" these ideas to determine what action feels inspired (or another option).  

The second desire was "it would feel really good to be able to save a certain dollar amount each month."  The word "able" jumped out at me.  What would make that situation flow?  Is there something that makes her "unable" to do this?  As it turns out her expenses are too high compared to her income to hit the saving target she has in mind.  Does this relate to the previous employment issue?  A different job perhaps?  A side gig?  Start a business?  On the expense side, are there a series of small expenses that could be trimmed that really add up?  Downsize to a smaller home?  Downsize from two cars to one?  It's important to brainstorm ideas that could actually be done in the present moment, and then "try them on" waiting for one of them to feel inspired.  You will know!  We always know when we're inspired to take an action.

There can be value in glancing at the past or to the future, as they can help us to determine what we want.  However, our best lives are built on a foundation we're inspired to lay right now.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Using Surrender to Move Forward

In last week's article, we discussed accepting the circumstances surrounding our current situation while
maintaining our identities as being separate from those circumstances.  We explored how to recognize the feelings of "being stuck" and how to utilize inspired action to mobilize from that place.  There is so much happening in our current environment lending itself to that feeling that it warrants further exploration.

In my daily life, there are practices that I maintain in order to take care of my being: exercise, meditation, reading, and reflecting.  While I may not complete all four of these items each day, I find that when I do most of these things, I find myself in a state of flow more easily.  Recently, I've been reading a couple of books, one of which is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.  I am in the final pages of the book, and he is talking about the idea of surrender.  He states that "Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life."  There are words in this sentence that stand out to me: surrender, yielding, and opposing.  The word surrender seems a bit misunderstood at times.  It seems that we perhaps misinterpret it to mean that we are simply giving up on moving forward with something, and yet when I look this word up in the dictionary, it provides a definition as being "to cease resistance."  Generally, if we are in a state of resistance to some circumstance, we are giving entirely too much of our life's energy to something in which we do not want.  To use a popular Abraham Hicks metaphor, that sounds a lot like "swimming upstream."  Eckhart Tolle goes on to suggest that "to surrender is to accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation." One word that stands out to me is "moment."  Again, we've discussed this idea before, but it bears repeating.  A moment is literally the circumstance that is happening in the now.  If we guard our thoughts carefully, we can take care not to give that circumstance a past or a future, and thus we avoid wrapping our identity in something that is simply one tiny blip on the timeline of our lives.  Perhaps the great question is, how can we surrender to our current financial circumstance and allow that to flow into an inspired action that fulfills our desires for the future?

Identify the Financial Condition

There is a financial condition that we've been experiencing over the past several months (the span of Covid-19).  The condition is that our tenants have been unable to pay the rent roughly half of the months since March.  

How to Surrender to the Condition

This isn't the most pleasant condition to be experiencing.  I mean, no one gets into the rental real estate business to not receive payments.  It's okay to allow yourself a moment to recognize that this condition exists in this moment, and that it's not pleasant.  Watch your feelings.  It's okay to notice them.  Do not allow the mind to identify with the feelings that popped up in that moment.  The moment you allow your mind to connect your identity to the emotion you felt temporarily, you have given power to that emotion and to the condition itself; in doing this you give it a future.  If surrendering means to "accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation," then we must accept that we experience both the situation and the emotion in that exact moment.  Notice, how it doesn't say that you accept the current situation as being from now until forever. That last line was peculiar, wasn't it?  But that's often the way that we operate.  A situation arises at this moment and it is easy to identify with it and a negative emotion and then allow the mind to stew on it, and chew on it, and imagine it into the future.  Tell your mind to stop.  This is counterproductive, and there is a much better use of your brilliant mind than that!  When received the first of several emails about our tenants struggling with the rent, I acknowledged it, discussed it very briefly with my partner, accepted that this circumstance was happening in this moment, and then thought very little about it.

Ask: What are the things that come along with this temporary condition?  

In other words, are there more conditions that automatically flow from the first one?  Remember, part of Eckhart Tolle's description of surrender is "yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life."  So, what else (if anything) is flowing from this situation?  When I considered this, I understood that two more things were true in this moment:  I would have to pay the mortgage myself; also, my income will be lower this year. 

This is where it might pay to peel back the layers of the onion.  There were two things that flowed from the initial condition of my renters not being able to pay the rent: lower income this year and needing to pay the mortgage myself.  If I ask the same question about each of those conditions, "What flows from that?" and add "Is there any potential opportunity buried in there?"  Then I am transitioning from to the initial low feeling place into a higher one.   Raising my vibration with regards to this situation seems like a better way to emerge from it, doesn't it?  There is something inherently more hopeful about looking for a hidden nugget of gold among what appears to be a simple pile of trash.  So, let's see...

Analysis: What flows from paying the mortgage myself?

Well, the first thing that feels really good is that I have the money to make those mortgage payments.  That already lifts my overall emotional state.  But what flows beyond that?  These renters have lived in my property for a few years now, and prior to Covid-19, they'd only ever been late once, and never fully missed a payment.  Furthermore, based on the last inspection the management company performed, they take pretty good care of the place.  This all makes me think they're pretty likely to pay the back rent as per our agreement.  Also, I'm current on the mortgage and everything else.  So, as they increase their monthly rent payments in order to catch up, we'll start experiencing a bit of a windfall.  Money will feel like it's coming through the door more rapidly with nowhere it needs to be applied.  So, we'll have more cash and lots of options!  How great is that?  There seems to be an opportunity here!

Analysis:  What flows from having a lower income this year?

My renters are unlikely to pay this rent all back before the end of this tax year.  So, I can expect a lower tax bill this year as a direct result.  What flows from that?  Most years, I am making estimated quarterly tax payments because of that added rental income.  This year's loss of income means that I don't have to do that (as per the CPA).  I have also been splitting my retirement contributions in two different directions, in part because of the added rental income.

Quick Traditional Personal Finance Lesson:  At my place of employment I have some retirement account options that are traditional: 401k, TDA (tax-deferred annuity), and 457.  These are funded using pre-tax dollars.  If I fund one of these accounts it lowers my taxable income this year, which in turn lowers my tax bill this year.  So, a lot of people like to use this in order to help minimize their tax bills in the current year.  I also have Roth options: Roth 401k and Roth 457.  These are funded with money that I have already paid taxes on.  This means that they will grow tax-free.  Since the taxes were already paid, I won't be taxed when I pull the money out in retirement.  It's kind of like I prepaid the taxes for 70-something-year-old me.  I get super excited about my Roth accounts because they're such an incredible deal!

Currently, 20% of my income goes to retirement accounts at work: 13% into my Roth 401k and 7% into my TDA.  I greatly prefer the Roth 401k, but typically always have a tax bill as a result of the rental property.  So, one of the things I do to minimize it is to put use a traditional retirement account (my TDA) to make my taxable income lower, thus also lowering my tax bill a little.  This year, my tax bill will already be lower because of this situation with my renters.

Side Note:  I often refer to the mind as a drama queen, and suggest pushing it off to the side so as not to allow it to stew on things that you don't want to call into your experience.  I want to take a time out to point out to you that THIS is exactly the place to invite the mind back into the conversation.  This traditional personal finance information is exactly what the mind is designed for.  Your mind can learn it, organize it, sort it, and finally put it to really good use by helping you to apply the applicable parts to your current situation.  

Ask:  Do any of these things breed an internal desire?

This is where you get to the inspired action part!  Your mind did its part, and now you return to your intuition.  What do you feel inspired to do?

Paying the mortgage payment myself has greatly increased my desire to pay it off very quickly.  The urge is becoming tremendous!  I feel as though this is something that we will do within the next few years.  Furthermore, when this financial windfall comes (from the renters making larger payments to reconcile their balance), I have options:  throw it at the mortgage, further pad our savings account, max out our Roth IRAs, or possibly some bridge investing.  I will sit with these options until my intuition kicks in and I feel a sense of peace or inspiration hit me.  With regards to my income being lower this year, I feel really inspired to dial down the contributions on my traditional account (TDA) and ramp up the contributions on my Roth 401k while there's still time this tax year.

So, it seems that I have moved from a place of surrendering to a financial condition in my life to a place where I've found two inspired actions to take and am sitting with a few other options. What financial conditions are you experiencing in this moment?  Can you peel back the layers to find an inspired action that will propel you forward?