Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Five Smartest Decisions I Made in the Last Decade

High school really sucked. I had a 40-hour part time job making hot dogs for minimum wage, no wheels, and perpetual motivation problems when it came to anything except writing. Of course, for those who knew me at the time, they will deny this and comment that I was making straight A's and could manage rides with all of my friends. Well, this was true too... but state of mind is a funny thing.

Today I feel very much in control of my life, and I attribute it to five smart decisions I made since then.

1. After a lot of relationship research (i.e. dating), I settled down with someone I can easily talk with and who cares about me. He's a nice person and sends me flowers randomly. We give each other energy.  We make decisions together. I will not say how many people I have dated, but it might be more than 20 and included all types (even a unicyclist).  Those folks were very nice, but they weren't for me. I pride myself in finding a person I could spend several lifetimes with (if that were feasible). He encourages me to be entirely authentic and pursue something I'm passionate about. He also keeps me honest and on the "high road" when it would be easy to slip into bad habits. Because of the accountability with someone I love and respect, I have been very productive, healthy, and overall happier, which makes this the most important decision I've made. 

2. Finishing a technical degree. This was my mom's suggestion, which was a good one. I'm going to go ahead and take the credit, since I am the one who finished dynamics with a B (plus another 133 credits of undergrad and 30 credits of graduate classes). I could have easily slipped into a language arts degree, which would have been fine except I didn't really know what kind of career I wanted. I knew that no money = hard life, so getting out of the current situation was a shiny carrot (I had graduated from hot dogs to enforcing the towel rule at the gym for minimum wage when at the undergrad level).

3. Living on campus. Dorms gave me free reign to enjoy the "college experience" of staying up late, talking with all kinds of people, and finding strategies for being creative on a budget. I also didn't have to clean bathrooms or kitchens - whew! This was probably the inception of me really walking in "turbo mode," since that was my main mode of transportation. I was totally inspired by the freedom of schedule, co-ed room parties, and doing that thing where you look cool while hanging out wasting time reading on a grassy patch.
Photo credit:

The biggest impact from this decision was learning that my lifestyle could be whatever I wanted it to be. I really appreciated things like the seasons, weather, good shoes, and Armin Van Buuren's music.

4. Doing a job that was totally in left field for me - teaching. As a technical trainer on Capitol Hill, I learned the importance of dressing well, as well as how to communicate without too many "ums." I can't say that I was particularly good at this job, which thickened my skin to criticism. This job also allowed me to travel to 17 states that I would not have visited otherwise, including Guam, and meeting a lot of cool people. Besides the whole "being on your feet for hours" and "lots of airport time," it was a sweet gig. I got burned out after being on the road three weeks out of the month, but all in all, it gave me confidence that I can manage doing something I wasn't trained for.
Not part of the training. Lessons in Guam.

5. Paying off all of my debt. Before I received money from Dad's estate, I had credit card and car debt on top of student loans, which totaled around $40K. It wasn't the best situation, especially since I decided I NEEDED a sports car after I started getting a steady paycheck. Also, at one point, I could only afford the credit card minimum. So I made the decision at 24 to get rid of my debt. At 26, I had zeroed out my credit card debt by paying triple the minimum (sometimes more). My car and student loan still were costing me $14K each, so I made the decision to work on my car loan. When my Dad passed, he left me some money, to which I paid off the remaining debt (although I definitely got some new shoes and a couple of steak dinners too). If I had kept going though, I would have finished my car debt and started working on my student loans. The point is that I prioritized what was owed and am now working on savings (plus other things I want like LASIK, braces, etc).  I also scrimped on things like cosmetics, furniture, and wardrobe pieces. There were a lot of hand-me-downs in the beginning, and that was OK for me.