Saturday, October 19, 2019

Is it too late for me to Slow FI? And three friends in my life that are doing it

Could this be me one day?

Slow FI is a rather new concept to me. Until I stumbled on a post about it at Jess' blog, The Fioneers, I've been on the "traditional", Mr. Money Moustache path to financial independence - save like hell and pull the plug as early as I can.

The journey has not been a happy one. Since 2015, I've had a string of jobs with fancy titles and great pay with awful conditions that wrecked my mental health. (You've read about my ordeal with Crazy Co, haven't you?) But I tell myself to grin and bear it because that's what you do to FI. You suck it up and save.

The idea of "enjoying" the journey to financial independence seemed like an impossible, unrealistic dream to me. While I really liked the idea of Slow FI, I felt that I couldn't pull it off because:

1. I live in Asia - good part-time jobs are not in great supply. (They rather make you work full-time and milk the hell out of you. But maybe I'm not looking for these jobs hard enough.)

2. I started my FI journey late - in my mid 30s and am now almost 45. I don't think I have the luxury of time on my side. I needed that stable high income to pump into my retirement accounts.

But do I, really?

Because I have friends in my life that are showing me that life could be lived differently.





Penny*
Penny was my former colleague at Ye Olde company who up and left to start her own freelancing business. ("I was only earning $2k then. I felt like I had nothing to lose!") It's been 10 years now and she's immensely happy with her decision, even if her life may not live up to the materialistic standards of metropolitan Asia. She doesn't have an expensive condo to her name, recently lost her husband (so no second income). Yet, she doesn't think much about the money in her retirement accounts - she just lives day by day. Her freelance life is made possible by her simple lifestyle - she rents a room and lives on just $1000 a month. Yet, she's the happiest and most serene person I know.

Briony*
My close pal Briony always takes a mini career break every six years. One of her career breaks lasted a year, and she was able to do it because she house sat for a family for a year - so her accommodation was free for that period. Her career break wasn't planned - her contract wasn't renewed. However, she took it as a great opportunity to rest and recalibrate. So, she volunteered during that time and rested. She's currently on yet another career break. She spent a month in England, and is now slowly looking for work. It's been 4 months and she doesn't seem to be in any hurry to get another job!

Elaine*
After a string of bad jobs, Elaine gave up on pursuing a steady, full-time job in corporate-land and decided to freelance. She only had 2 months of savings when she did that (not a great idea, she said, but she felt like she had no choice). She said it was the best decision of her life. She loved the flexibility and the ability to call her own shots. I've always admired Elaine's entrepreneurial spirit. Elaine's back in the full-time job market because of family commitments, but she says that she won't hesitate to return to that life if given the chance.

* Not their real names

If you could Slow FI, what would you do? Travel more? Volunteer?


Technically, my friends are Slow FI. They are financially responsible, live mostly frugal lives but live life on their own terms. They may not have the fat corporate paychecks, but they have an abundance of time and autonomy.

Are they able to pull it off cos they are super wealthy or have rich husbands?

No. Penny, as I said, doesn't have property. Briony still has mortgage bills to pay and her previous employer wasn't a great paymaster - her pay was always late! Elaine rents a $1.8k apartment (the usual rate in the city) and recently sold her car to pay off credit card debts.

What they have is a strong determination to live life on their own terms and to put their healths, sanity and well-being first.

And I'm starting to ask myself: If they could do this, why not me? Why not now?

Some things in my favour:
  • A paid-off apartment that is pulling me rental income of $1.8k a month, enough to cover my basic expenses.
  • 12 months' emergency fund in the bank
  • I can live rent-free for a few months


In a previous post, I said that I only wanted to Barista Fire when I'm 45 - that's about two years away. The idea was to save like mad the next two years and then step down to a slower schedule.

If you've been following my Twitter feed, you'll realise that there's something "off" about my new job at GC. I won't go into details because, frankly, I'm plain fed up by the corporate bullshit that is going on and I'm also not sure if it's my paranoia speaking and I'm jumping to conclusions.

But yes, I'm asking myself - if I have to Slow FI earlier than planned, can I pull it off?

What do you think?

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Mental health and personal finances


I've just started my new job at GC, and for a few weeks I was "cautiously hopeful". It's a Google-esque company. Wine and food is served during town hall meetings, there's a games room on the three floors we occupy in the building and staff often sit at the many balconies of the office. Did I mention that we are in the penthouse of a massive office building and have killer views of the city?

After years in barely optimal working environments, it felt like I had finally arrived. But I knew better than most that pretty offices can still hide dark secrets. I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So there's a side of me that's always looking around for danger. It found something this week.

The work at GC has mostly been challenging but interesting but the learning curve is steep. There's just a mindblowing amount of things to learn to fully grasp my job that at times I wondered if I can ever show any competency at the end of my 3-month probationary period. Up till the end of last month, I felt that  I was managing my work at a comfortable pace. But suddenly this week, work ramped up double speed and I had perplexing feedback from my boss. She said that I seemed "uncertain" and "unsure" and the she hoped that she wasn't mistaken when she saw that go getter person during the job interview. Did she even exist? she seemed to be asking.

I felt blindsided by the remark. First, what in the world am I going to do with that? Isn't a newbie supposed to be unsure? Should I pretend that I've gotten the hang of things? Fake it to put everyone at ease? I felt the hot tide of anxiety came rushing back, wrapping its tentacles around my chest.

You're going to be fired, I'm sure of it, whispered the voice.

Worse, all this was happening while I battled some health issues that left in my chronic pain for weeks. It was so tough to be positive and peppy when you feel like your head is going to explode from all the information you're cramming into it, managing a tough project, feeling stabbing pains throughout the day and trying to cover up my feelings.

There's a shadow lurking in my life now, making it hard for me to 100% enjoy where I am in the present.

Anxiety.


I was caught off guard when I was hit by a wave of anxiety in August, what was supposed to be my month off. I worried incessantly about the state of my finances. And mind you, I think I'm better off than most.

I was flummoxed when paralysing panic hit me when I got stumped at work over a tough project and my "happy" mask slipped and my boss saw my anxious side.

You're going to be fired! You're going to be jobless and you're going to be a pauper!

Since this is an anon blog, I can go ahead and say that I have $60k in savings, $85k spread out in various investments and $300k in my retirement fund. My paid off property is worth $450k. I have a networth of about $895k. (PS: It's not in US dollars, but it's still a healthy sum.) While I definitely need up to beef up my investments, it's not an unhealthy sum by any means.

Yet, I still don't feel "safe".

In many ways, I'm mad at myself. Absolutely mad.

I actually began the personal finance journey because of anxiety. I had felt so worried about my finances that I actually convinced myself that when I was debt free, I can finally be released from the anxiety. But when that didn't happen, I said, okay, I'll feel safe when I have $50k in savings. When that was achieved and my anxiety remained, I said, hey maybe steady stream of money coming in every month from dividend investing would perk things up?

But when I calculated how much I would need to do that, my heart just sank. That's a long time to go to feel "safe".

Yup, I know I have a rather unhealthy relationship with money - the fact that I would repeatedly stay in toxic jobs just to save money is a sign, but I'm really not sure what to do about it.

All I can do after my latest panic episode was to call my career coach to discuss strategies on how to do my upcoming performance review with my boss without falling to pieces. I've also started sessions with a promising psychologist, so I'm trying to deal with my anxiety as best as I could.

Sleep more, says my therapist.

Yeah... trying sleeping through an anxiety episode....

But really, I'm tired of my overactive amygdala - if there was a pill to calm it the fuck down, I'd pay big dollars for it.

Uhm, yeah, so how was your week?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Mini Career Break Report #2: Face the financial fear and do it anyway


I wish I had money to burn.

"You are a curious creature," said my friend R yesterday. "It's as if you want to be a Type B person, but you're constantly in Type A mode instead."

My friend's astute observation came after watching me scurry around to banks, lawyers, rental property and government offices for 7 days. Instead of resting after my two-week Aussie vacation, I decided to do as much as I can so that my remaining 5 weeks would be a breezy one.

As usual, in my zealousness, I've crammed way too many to-do items into my schedule. And almost everything on my to-do list are things I detest/dread doing.

And they are:


Dealing with rental property 
I have a small apartment that earns me $1.8k of rental income a month, but it's by no means passive income. Recently, I got a new batch of tenants and they were complaining about the mess the previous tenant had left behind. 

To my horror, when I went over to inspect the property, I discovered broken furniture, stained mattresses and numerous plumbing an lighting problems. So, I had the stuff hauled away for $350 and engaged my usual Fix-It Man to fix things up. Ouch.

My problem was that I had not done regular inspections to the place so I didn't realise how bad things had gotten.

Also, I didn't have a proper system in place to manage the place. For one (and please don't keel over in shock), I don't even have keys to the apartment or keep a ledger, so I don't know who paid what when.

So I spent a few more days creating a digital system, made copies of the keys and an excel sheet.

Lawyerly stuff. Had some documents certified copied. I generally detest dealing with lawyers in general, but it had to be done, sigh.

Obtain online accounts for my retirement account (Note: I'm not American, so it's not Roth IRA) and mutual fund accounts so that I can better keep track of them. I kept meaning to get the online access but my life had been topsy turvy since 2012 because I moved countries, changed jobs 3x and more. This is the first time in a long while that I could take a breather to do this!

Rebalanced my mutual fund accounts as it had waaaay too much equity investments for my liking. Furthermore, 1/3 of my retirement funds were in mutual funds, and it made me incredibly nervous that they were in high-risk investment vehicles. (In my country, we are allowed to transfer some of our retirement funds to private mutual funds. I discovered, to my dismay, that if I had left my money where it was, it would have netted me way more in dividends.) 

My investments barely rose in the 6 years I've left it in mutual funds, which broke my heart. During some years, I actually LOST money. However,  I think I'm lucky as many people actually ended up losing a lot of money transferring their money to private mutual funds. Why? Well, in my country mutual funds have very high fees - 5%-8% sales charge for the initial investment and 1.1% management fees yearly! 

Fortunately, the government recently released a platform that would allow investors to invest in mutual funds with 0-0.5% sales charge, but I'm now leery of mutual funds as it's far too volatile for me and I hate playing around with my retirement fund income.

Upgrade my medical insurance
My policy is literally 10 years old and it's time to upgrade it!

These squiggly lines might as well be Greek to me!


Doing all this "money stuff" was necessary as I've put it off for far too long, but was extremely stressful for me. In fact, my eczema made an unpleasant reappearance this week after a blissful month of dormancy. -_-.

See, I may be an accomplished "pay off my debt" Queen and I'm awfully good at saving my pennies, but I'm terrible at the investment part of the Financial Independence equation.

Why?

I'm absolutely terrified of investing.

Like "lie awake at night" kind of terrified. Like pop-Xanax-to-relax kind of terror.

I suspect I have financial fear, the kind that is bordering on pathological.

I live in fear of making a financial mistake that would ruin my life.

I relate to the writer of the article, Are You Ready to Finally Let Go of Financial Fear?, when she said:

No matter how much money I had in the bank. I still had foreboding money issues.

See, I may not be a millionaire, but I am debt free, have 2 years' worth of emergency fund, a paid-off home, passive income that will sustain me if I'm out of a job and an okay (though not great) amount in my retirement accounts ... and I still feel like my world is going to collapse any moment. I thought I'd be happy once I got all these sorted out ... but no, I'm still trapped by financial fear. And it's getting fucking frustrating.

My Financial Fear is probably due to several reasons:

  • My initial forays into investing have been challenging. My property, for one, had been fraught with legal problems since day 1. If I had a choice, I'd get rid of it to get rid of the bad memories, but the sales tax would rob me of any gains I'd get from selling the place. My mutual funds have also not performed well; I had better luck with cash deposits!
  • For too long I let others manage my money. First, it was my parents who insisted I buy property at 23. They did help me with the downpayment, but I wasn't psychologically ready to own property and the complications that came with it. It also ended up ensnaring me in a legal battle that lasted 5 years. Then, it was fund managers who told me what to do, and me, trusting that they knew best, just signed on the dotted line.
  • I have no idea what to do to ensure I have a good retirement. Am I on the right track? Am I desperately behind? I have no idea. I want to increase my net worth, but I have no idea how. Much of the information out there is US-based, and it's tough to find good reference material/courses about investing in my country, so I feel like I'm throwing out money in the dark, hoping that it would land somewhere good. (Most of the time, it didn't!)
  • I probably inherited my dad's chronic anxiety over finances. I grew up watching my dad fretting over money. He generally had a very fearful approach to finance and setbacks. Once, when he was laid off, he moped around for months, saying that he was afraid of ending up in the poorhouse. The thing was, due to his careful money management, his properties were nearly paid off, he had a pool of emergency funds and to top it all of, he was getting a sizeable government pension. Plus, us kids were already working and independent. Yet, my Dad behaved as if it was the end of the world. Investing? He thinks they are of the devil, so I was repeatedly warned throughout my life against investing in anything other than cash deposits! I really can't blame my dad, however. When he was a young boy, his dad became a drug addict and his family literally went from riches to rags. Growing up that way would have made him very, very cautious and fearful of financial setbacks. Still, I suppose all this had an effect on me and I grew up thinking of money as a fearsome, unfathomable beast that cannot be harnessed.

When it came to investing, I always feel like I'm in the dark, shooting blind.

So, yeah, while some folks actually get excited experimenting with their finances, I pretty much hate it.

And what do I do when I hate doing things? Well, I avoid them.

Over the years, my financial issues just grew and grew and grew and I ended up with lost investments, damaged furniture and sleepless nights.

Denial is not a strategy, folks.

So, I'm over it. I want to banish Financial Fear from my life.


What I'm doing to overcome the fear

1. Study up
Things have improved, education-wise, in my country - so I'm studying the basics of investing in vehicles like REITS, Peer to Peer lending and bonds via blogs and books as much as I can.

2. Get professional advice
Fortunately, the government actually has retirement specialists who can sit down with me to talk about strategy etc. So I hope to get some kind of proper direction and advice on how to increase my retirement savings - I've made an appointment for next Tuesday.

3.  Be informed before I invest
My "investing & hope for the best" strategy, has got to go. I listened far too much to "trusted advisors" and friends because I found the numbers confusing. From now on, I plan to study an investment before even thinking about investing in it.

4. Therapy
Maybe I have some PTSD due to all the financial challenges that my family and I faced throughout the years. I'm not sure how much talk therapy can help, but I have to acknowledge that it has gotten so bad that my health is affected because I ruminate far too much about it.

5. Experiment little by little
I think the only way to invest is to do some "exposure" therapy. I'm going to start with small amounts, and as I gain confidence, add more.

How about you? Do you deal with Financial Fear? Are you trying to shake off the legacy of your family's attitude towards money?

Friday, August 16, 2019

Mini Career Break report #1: Australian vacation money diaries

Melbourne's Southbank is a great place for an evening stroll & dinner.


Well, it's been awhile. Truth to be told, I had every intention to blog while I was in Australia, but my old travel laptop had other ideas - it refused to connect to the Internet. (I suppose it wanted me to have a digital detox too - thanks, lappie!) So I spent two weeks just, well, enjoying myself.

This two-week vacation has been the best thing I've ever done for myself - hands down. Originally, I planned to be there only 10 days, then I thought, what the heck, make it 14 days since I'd lose 2 days travelling anyway! I went there mostly as a solo traveller, though a friend joined me on the Melbourne leg of the trip.

On the whole, this vacation was mega expensive by my standards, but every dime has been worth it. I thought it would be fun to show you how much I spent for my break down under. (For the sake of simplicity, the costs will be in Australian dollars.)


Grange beach in Adelaide. One of the more underrated beaches there. Everyone goes to Glenelg, but at Grange, you can have a quieter time soaking in the scenery and the old beach homes along the coast.


First, why Australia?
To be honest, if I had a choice, I wouldn't pick Australia as my "holiday destination to recover from my extremely toxic job". Yes, it's expensive - but that's not the reason. The truth is, Australia is the land where I experienced my biggest successes ... and also my biggest disappointments, some of which hurts till this day. I was worried that I'll be spending my precious vacation time being sad and regretful as I remembered old hurts and thought about what ifs, and I'm already emotionally wrung out from 2.5 years of toxic workplaces. But I have many friends there too, I've loose ends to tie up and I'm determined not to let the past stop me. Also, this 5-week break was a rare opportunity - I'm not sure when I'll get it again.

First, I visited Adelaide - where I had lived for almost 3 years. Then, Melbourne, my most favourite city in the world (and which I've visited so many times that I walk around the CBD like a native.)



Richmond Hotel, Adelaide. I absolutely adored my room.
Accommodation - about A$750
I've always been a frugal traveller - opting to crash in hostels or with friends than hotels. But this time around, I said to myself, nah - the last thing I wanted to do was to be trapped in a hostel room with strangers who have smelly shoes and socks (true story - happened to me one trip).

I was super lucky to stumble across two great deals. The first was Richmond Hotel in Adelaide. The room went for A$99 per night. I stared at the figure, wondering if it was a joke because the Richmond was a 4 star hotel right in the heart of Adelaide's Rundle Mall, its shopping district. It usually went for at least A$200 or more. It's location was ideal for folks like me who prefer to explore the city by foot and public transport because it was near all the major trams.

I booked two nights there and it was awesome, simply awesome. My room was not a pokey little hole in some basement but a large, expansive room with a plush Queen-sized bed, a bathtub, and get this - a private courtyard. The only disadvantage was that it was located near an event hall and it got noisy at one point, but the hotel was kind enough to close the soundproofed double-doors for me to get some quiet.

 The ibis Styles Kingsgate hotel in Melbourne.


The next find was ibis Styles Kingsgate in Melbourne. It was a budget place, but my room certainly didn't feel budget even if it had an exciting view of a construction site. I spent less than $99 per night on this place and spent about 6 nights there. My room was indeed a pokey little room on the ground floor, but it was a comfortable, well-appointed and tastefully furnished pokey little room and I love it. Especially since it came with Netflix!

I did, however, stayed with friends in Adelaide for about 4 nights. I found that while I saved a tonne of money, I didn't enjoy being shackled in the suburbs and also living around my friends' timetables, though I loved spending time with my friends.

Food & Beverages - A$600 


The sashimi is so darn fresh!
I've never been able to economise when it comes to eating out, and it's the same while on holiday - especially in Melbourne where there are so many amazing good restaurants around! We were extremely lucky that we somehow ended up eating at yummy places, but each visit cost around A$30 at least for food & coffee. It sure added up. But lordie, the coffee & hot chocolate in Melbourne! There's just no words for it.

I was more frugal in Adelaide. Having lived there for years, I've been there done that so to speak, so I often bought ready-to-eat food from Woolies (Woolworths), and that's relatively cheap - about A$5-6 per meal.

Great Ocean Road day tour - A$120
The Rainforest along the Great Ocean Road 
I'm not a tour group person. I hate being herded from one place to another, being told that I only have 40 minutes in one spot or to have toilet breaks planned for me, but I wasn't bold enough to drive down the Great Ocean Road (GOR) myself. (I once got lost while on a road trip in Thailand and it wasn't fun.)

All in all, I thought this tour was really worth it - they picked us up from a hotel near ours at 7am and proceeded to herd us from landmark to landmark. The sights along GOR are indeed as gorgeous and as magnificent as they say. Since we travelled down this stretch of road during winter, it was cold as fuck (okay, probably a nice Spring day for those used to more arctic temperatures). But the benefit of it was that we avoided the Summer crush of crowds and avoided long ass queues.

My favourite stop had to be the Rainforest. We took a 40-minute walk in there, and honestly I could've spent a day there as it was so darn beautiful inside.

Was the tour worth it? Yes - though I wished I could've stayed at least an hour in a seaside town we stopped for lunch at one point. Was it enjoyable? Mostly. I had to share the van with a bunch of extremely noisy Italians though, and as a person who have extremely low tolerance for noise, it was hellish.

So if I were to do the GOR again, it would be a self-drive, with a stay of a few nights in one of the seaside towns.

The Twelve Apostles. Photos can't really do it justice.


Shopping - A$100
Fortunately, as a minimalist, I hardly shopped for things there, though I succumbed to a few books (mostly journals) and a travel bag that I have been looking for. Also, when you live in the land of shopping malls, Australia frankly doesn't hold anything interesting for me. But I could've bought way more books if they were more affordable! Books are shockingly expensive in Australia, ranging from A$23-A$30, so while I saw many Aussie books I'd love to read, I just couldn't justify spending that much moolah on them.

Transportation in Australia - A$120
I walked or used the free tram to travel around the Adelaide & Melbourne CBDs, so transportation within the city was free. We used the Skybus to get to and fro the airport, and it was very convenient not to mention cheaper when booked via the app, Klook. However, on our last day, we decided to hire a cab to the airport and was dinged with a surcharge when the hotel booked us the wrong time. The cabbie ended up waiting half an hour for us and we were charged for that. Sobs. Most expensive cab ride ever!

Grange beach, Adelaide

Flight tickets - A$800
I used budget airlines. It was ... not very comfortable as I was plagued by screaming children both flights. But you gotta do what you gotta do! I booked return tickets to Australia, and also used domestic budget airlines to travel from Melbourne to Adelaide as the airline didn't fly direct to Adelaide. I used Tiger Air, which had an apparently notorious reputation of never being on time, but I was lucky as both flights were on time for mine. Phew!

I did consider about using a non-budget airline to fly to Australia, but it was almost 50% more expensive to fly to Melbourne using a regular commercial airline. I made the decision to channel the savings I got using budget flights to my accommodation. Best decision ever!

So how did I pay for it all?
I usually save 40% of my salary. So in May & June, I stopped saving and paid for the flight, Skybus transport and accommodation costs using parts of my May and June salary. I still have about A$600 on my card to pay off from the expenses I racked up in Australia.

I could easily use my savings to pay it off, but I'm thinking of using my first paycheck from the new company to pay it completely off because I dislike the hassle of digging into my savings.

But knowing me, I'll probably pay it off as I hate seeing my credit card balance balloon!

How do I feel after the vacation?
Wonderful. Absolutely, wonderful! The two weeks was worth every penny because for a while, all I had to focus on was to enjoy myself. It was amazing not to wake up with dread, wondering how I could meet an impossible deadline, realising that that horrible bit of my work life is now behind me.

I'm not completely 100% recovered, though, as my nerves as still easily worked up and I still have weird nightmares about work. (True story - on my first day in Australia, I had a dream where a former boss called me to yell: "Why are you not at work?!")

It may be the most expensive holiday I've ever had, but this holiday was the best thing I've done to pamper, nourish, celebrate myself.

No regrets!

Hosier Lane, Melbourne, is where you can find a lane full of wall art.


So, what do you think? Have you taken a holiday during your a career break? Do share!



Wednesday, July 10, 2019

My mini career break is coming ... and I'm anxious?

I've been busy the last few weeks. Wrapping up things at work. Battling the after effects of bad burnout. Booking holidays.

While battling up and down yoyo feelings, I've managed to book a 10-day holiday in Australia. A few years ago I had a life in Australia, working and living there. So I've got a tonne of friends there and I can't wait to meet them again. It's been years since I've seen them.

I'm excited. I can't wait to do all the fun things.

But this is the oddest thing. I am facing the prospect of a 5-week career break and I feel ANXIOUS about it.

You bet I'm really puzzled by this. Logically, I should be ecstatic, over-the-top happy. But instead I'm dealing with an undercurrent of anxiety and it's confusing the heck out of me.


I can't wait to do this. Yet I'm anxious to do this. Weird.


I mean, it's rather telling that I think a 10-day holiday in Australia feels long!

I think it's a blessing that I still have 2 weeks to go before leaving the corporate workday. Currently, as I'm wrapping things up at work, my workload has gotten considerably lighter. So much so that there's a strange sense of panic, a "surely I've missed something" state of being of not being so insanely busy as before.

Now that they've parceled out my responsibilities to three people (yes, three), my workload is more than manageable. It's, infact, rather relaxing. I mean, there are days where I can slack off and do nothing ... or am actually bored. I distinctly remember being so damn busy that I don't even have time to take toilet breaks or where I would eat lunch and tap on my laptop at the same time so that I could sleep at midnight instead of 2am that day.

Oh, I still have my share of difficult stakeholders to deal with and a meeting or two to attend that I wish I didn't have to attend, but I forsee the next two weeks will be a good segue to 5 weeks of do-nothingness.

Which brings me to the panic thing.

Then I stumbled on this thread at the Money Moustache community which gave me a little glimpse at what could possibly be happening:

I think I'm decompressing from my 2.5 years of toxic jobs, finally shedding and processing the negativity and toxicity I had to endure all those years.  

Also, after 2.5 years of relentless challenges at three jobs, my brain can't quite comprehend that I'm now free to relax ... and free to enjoy a different kind of life.

I have spent all these years just surviving, and being on constant work-work-work mode that I have frankly forgotten how to relax and to operate at a slower pace. I kid you not, my daily diary entries were filled with a todo list a page or two long. I didn't have "3 Most Important Things" to do - I had 10 to 15. Plus a dozen subtasks or more. 

Now that I actually have a normal to easy workload, I think my brain is confused.

Relax? How the hell do you do that again?


There must be something wrong, it thinks. I'm missing something!

Missing something meant inciting the wrath of my toxic ex-boss. It meant the loss of my job. It meant living under the bridge eating out of trash cans.

While the circumstances have changed, my brain has not. It's stuck in the old ways of being.

So it's always searching for signs of danger despite my more relaxed schedule. And, unfortunately, it has latched on to the idea that my new employer is tricking me by allowing me this mini-break.

"They're just buyin time to search for another candidate, then they'll fire your ass!" whispers the voice.

This, it says almost triumphantly, is the thing to worry about!

Welcome to the life of a chronic worrier.

Busy hustling. Busy moving. Busy surviving. Busy Busy Busy

This article, Done Detoxing by LivingaFI explains how I am currently so well:

When youíre ambitious, time is precious.  You must always be working toward your ultimate goal, whatever that may be.  When you idle, minutes slip away, and your dreams feel as though theyíre going up in smoke.  To push back against this feeling, you strain harder.

In other words, ambition created an urgency underlying the texture of my days.

But this urgency ó this feeling of continually pushing forwardñ  is a behavior, not a goal. Though Iíd reached the endgame, the TFB (Too Fucking Busy) behavior remained, the orphaned baby on the doorstep as ambition fled town.

I've technically reached my "endgame" for the season - getting out of my job and into a coveted mini break, and getting a job that I think will suit my personality and lifestyle better... but my old habits of striving and looking fearfully for dangers at the workplace (backstabbers, schemers, bully bosses, missed deadlines) still remain.

Can I throw away my TFB behaviour and transform it into something healthier in August?

Meanwhile, I've extended my 10-day holiday in Australia to 14 days. ;) A good sign, I guess!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

How I negotiated a mini career break & how a Fuck Off fund made it possible


Well, I've been away! Partly because things at Crazy Co. was tense because I was negotiating for an early release from my 3-month notice period. It went easier than I thought - the resistance and pushback I expected was not as bad as I thought.

Step 1: Point out a clause in the contract
There's a clause in the contract that stated that if I wasn't confirmed, I could  be released in a month. All notices, stated the contract, had to be in writing, and this will include the notice of confirmation. Crazy Co never bothered to give me a confirmation letter. I pointed it out and HR basically laughed at my face. I expected that - they were the type to follow the clauses of the contract only when it suited them - so I wasn't crushed. A lawyer friend said that I could argue it out in the courts. However, who would want to do that? I'd rather save myself the time and money and heartache. At least I tried!

Step 2: Talk it out with relevant parties - have a good reason ready
This was tough for me as Crazy Co management can be downright mean. But a face-to-face chat is essential before sending out that email. Emails can be so terse and robotic; putting a face to the request helps soften things up. First, I approached the HR director and head of department and told them what I'm planning to do (apply for early release) and my reason for doing so (I had to sort out personal matters). Then I spoke to the CEO - whose moods are as unpredictable as the weather. I watched her carefully, making sure that she's in a good mood and pounced. It turned out to be a barely 5-min chat. She told me to send the email request.

Step 3: Send that email
Have it in black and white. Always!


Step 4: Negotiate
Confession - I totally flubbed this. I made a mistake in my email which alarmed the higher ups because I requested to have my notice period shortened to a month instead of 2 months! (I guess my subconscious REALLY wanted to leave ASAP.) They offered to release me in 1.5 months and I don't know why - call it a brain fart or total logical breakdown - I stuck to my original date. [FACEPALMS] I totally kicked myself for hours after that.

After a few days, I worked up the courage to re-negotiate with the head of my department (who was not pleased, obviously) and got my notice shortened a further one week.



Next time, I'll go in with a prepared script for different scenarios. It's just that I never expected them to give me an even earlier release - I was all prepared to accept a 2.1 month release! So my brain was fixated on that, I suppose!!

So with this early release, I got myself a month off before starting the new job. Woohoo!

All those steps above were important, but none were more important than this step:

Be financially prepared by having a FUCK OFF fund

I knew that if I got an early release, I'll be sacrificing my salary. In this case I'll be sacrificing a month's salary. However, I've spent years saving up for that day when I may not have that salary coming in.

Right now, my Fuck Off fund is enough to cover at least a year's expenses.

On top of that, I currently have a source of passive income via my rental home. That monthly income is enough to cover my monthly expenses.

I currently only spend 50% of my monthly income.  But in a crunch, I only need $2k a month to live on comfortably. This is because I have NO debt, live frugally (except for an expensive eating out habit I'm trying to tame) and don't have a pressing desire to spend money on stuff.

With the fund and frugal habits in place I didn't even blink at doing without a salary for a month.


Because, really, my mental health is so much more important, 'k?

Because, although things are much, much better in terms of workload, flexibility - the meanness that is at the centre of this company's way of being is still there. After nearly 10 months of this shit, I'M OVER IT.

I do not, I repeat, I do not want to bring this negativity unconsciously to the new workplace. Because currently, I look at people at work like they're a bunch of piranhas out to eat the flesh off my bones. I need to regain some faith in humanity first.


Saturday, June 8, 2019

5 lessons from 3 bad jobs


LONG POST AHEAD!

So now that I have officially resigned, it’s time to evaluate what went wrong with my career journey for the past 5+ years. No, it’s not a deliberate exercise in torture - I believe all jobs, good and bad, teach us something. If I don’t learn from my experience in Crazy Co and other companies, I’ll be doomed to repeat them.

After all, most project managers have a session at the end of each project to evaluate what went wrong in order to prevent such things from happening again.

It’s tempting, however, to lay the blame entirely at the employer’s feet. I DO have some responsibility over my situation as well.

NO.


Lesson 1: When the job changes on you, and you hate it, don’t stay too long

Ye Olde Company was my longest employer, and there’s a good reason why so many of us worked there for decades. However, over the years, the company morphed into something we could no longer recognise.

Many of us old timers hung on because we remembered how it was, and sometimes we relate to it as if it had not changed. It’s like having a second husband, but treating him like he was your first husband.

I returned to Ye Olde Company after years abroad. The job was something I swore to myself I would never do again, but I took it on because of practical reasons. I needed a job to get me back on my feet at home again and I needed stability. Ye Olde Company offered both. Besides, I could transfer out to another department in the future, I reasoned.

It turned out to be a great decision. At least for a year. I was recovering from bad burnout when I accepted the job and I knew I couldn’t handle a high-stress job. I could do the job’s tasks in my sleep and there were long down time periods during our 8-hour working period. Meaning, I could actually spend hours at work doing nothing! I was even encouraged to “read a book” during those times!

We could also shift around our off days, so sometimes I would work on public holidays, then use those off days to work 3 days a week and take the rest of the week off. It was a neat arrangement for most of us. I used this to take regular, 3 to 4-day mini holidays monthly without having to touch my leave entitlement.

Also, the unusual working hours (I worked the afternoon shift) enabled me to do chores in the morning and engage in my passion projects. I also paid off my biggest debt - my mortgage - during the stint at Ye Olde Company because the odd hours enabled me to run to banks and lawyers’ offices. Also, the steady income enabled me to handle the bills I had to pay.

Then, in Year 2, the job changed for the worse.

I was put on more and more night shifts. Being a morning lark, the night shifts were unbearable - I would take days to recover. Once a month night shifts became nearly every week. Then it became twice a week. My 3-4 day mini holidays became sleeping marathons.

My health deteriorated. I had gastrointestinal issues so severe that I could not eat anything other than soup. My weight actually plummeted. It’s actually very tough for me to lose weight!

I also had shooting chest pains. (It turned out to be muscle tension from bad posture at my work desk, fortunately!)

Don't wait till you lose it. Trust me.


As the company came under severe financial pressure, management became more and more callous and calculative. It’s famed empathy and compassion for its staff became a thing of the past. People were shamed for minor mistakes (we actually had a shame board where they showcased people’s errors!). Older, experienced staff were coldly let go and replaced by younger, cheaper staff.

My health issues and the company’s cultural shift made it difficult to keep my dissatisfaction with my job at bay. It was a job I didn’t enjoy doing - I found it uninteresting and repetitive - but I tolerated it due to the benefits of the job. However, with my health suffering, I knew that whatever benefits I had enjoyed was no longer enough.

I also knew that if I stayed longer, it would stunt my career prospects - I was learning no new skills that would make me more marketable.

There were so many strikes against the job by mid Year two, but I hung on because I loved Ye Olde Company. Or rather, what it used to be.

I stayed on until my body completely broke down. On hindsight, I should have left by mid Year-Two. I would have had more strength and energy to explore more job options and reflect what I really wanted in my day job.

Because I hung on until I couldn’t hang on anymore, I became desperate and took the first job that came along - Company A - despite it’s financial problems.


Lesson 2: Can you tolerate the risk that comes with the job? If not, don’t take the job!

While researching Company A, I discovered that it was in the process of being sold. That meant that if I did accept the job, there was no guarantee that the new owners would keep me around, especially since the job was an experimental, non-essential one - a “good to have”, not a “must have”. Most companies would outsource my job.

It would be a good job for someone who wanted to have a brief stint or who was willing to take on the risk of being jobless without warning.

But I wanted a steady, reliable job to depend on so I can work on other things the side.

So, naturally, my gut screamed, NOPE.


But I was desperate, burned out from Ye Olde Company. I reasoned that the worst case scenario won’t happen as it was said that the sale won’t happen for many years yet.

Unfortunately, it did - three months after I started the job! My department was restructured. My tasks were given to someone else and I ended up twiddling my thumbs for weeks. It was a matter of time before Company A retrenched me. I knew it was time to move on.




Lesson 3: Listen to your gut

After Ye Olde Company and Company A, I was determined to be more careful with my job search. I actually turned down a couple of jobs which I deemed an ill fit before Crazy Co came headhunting for me.

As a person whose emotions led me down a not-so-great path far too many times, I tend to not trust them too much. But after ending up in two back-to-back “bad” jobs, I’ve come to realise that the fear and anxiety I felt before accepting each job was valid. These emotions were telling me something.

None was clearer than with Crazy Co. I knew something was “off” when various managers regaled me with how bad the previous staff was and that the company lacked “mature” people. My gut clenched with distaste at what I was hearing.

If your gut is screaming, RUN FOR THE HILLS

Big lesson: How a person speaks of colleagues/staff is a big indicator of how they treat them. It was a huge clue that Crazy Co viewed their staff as children who needed to be disciplined and shepherded. That meant a top-down, do-as-I say style of management. It also highlighted the company’s culture of disrespect since they viewed adults as immature! Crazy Co felt that people should be honoured and lucky to even work with them.

My gut was telling me that I would not fit there, and I would probably be treated with disrespect.

My gut was 100% spot on.

Lesson 4: Do not be swayed by the company image or benefits

But I chose to ignore my gut because Crazy Co was prestigious, fought for a cause I believed in and I was entranced by the company benefits, which included remote working priveleges. There was a good chance that I could segue the job into part-time work.

A few people even came to me and told me not to accept Crazy Co’s job offer. “Everyone is trying to get out,” said a friend. “Don’t do it!”

But the Glassdoor reviews seemed largely positive, I thought.

I can handle it, I thought to myself after all. After all, no job was perfect.

I couldn’t, in the end - for very good reasons.



Lesson 5: Set firm boundaries

Because I had such a short stint at Company A, I felt really pressured to make Crazy Co work eventhough I knew by Week 2 I had landed in cray-cray land. I was determined to stay at least a year - the length of my contract. So this determination and the fear of losing my job before the term was up made me put up with things I shouldn’t.

As a result, I often avoided as much confrontation as I could.

What I realised now is that my ex-boss was testing my boundaries. X wanted to see how far she could go. A little cutting remark here, a put-down there. With each word, my self-confidence was chipped away. With each boundary breaking behaviour, she grew bolder.

Nowhere was my boundaries more broken than with my workload. I was given the work of 3 people - many of the tasks I was given were not the tasks I had agreed to do when signing the contract. Each time, I told myself, “I can handle it”. I said yes, when my mind screamed no. I didn’t tell her the truth. I didn’t set firm boundaries.

I also didn’t set boundaries for myself.

I allowed work to creep into my personal space. I worked on weekends just to catch up. I worked after hours. I checked my phone all the time. I ate crap food. I reasoned that these sacrifices were worth it as it will help me keep my job.

It wasn’t worth it, of course. I ended up with eczema, my IBS flared up and I became insomniac.

No job is worth your health. No job.



After my bad experiences, I decided to do things differently during my job hunt this time:


How I applied my lessons:

  • By month six, I knew Crazy Co was a lost cause. I didn’t wait too long and began applying for jobs. Six months was enough time to deem if it wasn’t for me.
  • A potential employer asked me if I would consider joining his company. I turned him down. Why? Because he told me his current employee was terrible and pointed her out with a sneer. His disrespect for her was a clear indication what kind of boss he would be. Bullet dodged. 
  • I turned down a job offer from a company because I discovered dodgy HR practices in its past. What befell these poor employees may not befall me, but I knew I wanted a more stable job after Crazy Co, so it was a no-go.
  • With my new co, GC, their structured, organised hiring practices gave me confidence. I liked that I got to hang out with the team twice during the interviews. To test if we were a personality fit, I created a light-hearted video during my presentation. They laughed. I knew then that these people understood my sense of humour and would appreciate my personality.


These lessons were very tough to learn, but necessary. As a result of these painful experiences, I’ve learned what's the bad I can live with at a job, and learned to recognise jobs that don't suit me.