Money Or Time?

A friend told me about a study done showing that most Americans have next to nothing in their savings accounts.

The actual statistic: 69% have less than $1,000 and 34% have no savings at all.

In other words, if your savings account has more than a grand in it, you fall into the unbelievably small 21%.

This got me wondering, is this really all about unwise financial decisions? Or could it have something to do with the actual ability to save? Having worked my share of odd jobs myself (TV salesman, cashier, waiter, dishwasher), I know something about how challenging it can be, having certain levels of income, to actually save money.

Saving money is not just the act of putting money into a savings account. As far as I’ve seen, there is really one major factor: Time.

Though I can’t cite statistics, I know that car payments, rent, mortgage payments, food, fuel, utilities, and insurance of all kinds, are facts. Never mind any expenses that do not fall into insurance, or recreational expenses of any kind. In order to account for all of these things, it seems safe to conclude that every American below a certain income level must devote a fair amount of Time to, well, Working. (And unless you’re very lucky, your job is not perfectly aligned with your creative or Artistic talents or Vision.)

Ironically, some of the very activities needed to save money (cooking at home, minimizing travel, designing and keeping to a budget) can be hard-pressed to fit into Time that’s already spent Working.

Maybe these far-out numbers reflect a deeper problem than poor spending habits.

Source: Yahoo!: “Here’s how much Americans at every age have in their savings accounts” by Kathleen Elkins

Should You Quit Your Job?

In Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest For Work You Love, he provides an algorithm to be used in order to find out whether you should quit your job. I’m quoting from memory:

There are three criteria:

  1. You really hate the people you work with.
  2. You feel that the job is not helping people or doing anything good for the world.
  3. There is no room for innovation.

The first criterion is more or less black and white – you either do or you don’t hate the people you work with. The second two are far more subjective. Who’s to say if the world is being made a better place? And as far as innovation goes, are we talking within the confines of the job itself, or innovation outside of the workplace as well?

Most people aren’t interested in the second two criteria. They’re most likely already good at their job, or they don’t have any other source of income on which to fall back. But for those of us who are, it might benefit us to contemplate them if we’re not entirely certain that our current jobs will hold much promise in the long run.

Pushing Up

The job I have now is an interesting beast. I’ve wrestled with it now for, well, as long as I’ve been doing it – about seven years. I’ve never encountered anything so emotionally challenging, nor something that has forced me to adapt with such immediacy.

What strikes me the most about it is how I am always needing to adjust my perspective. Sometimes my emotions can get the better of me, but when I take a step back and look at how good I have it, my perspective is slanted towards the positive. The most challenging thing is not being able to see the forest for the trees.

I think this can extend to all walks of life  – not only jobs, but also activities, or moments or stretches of time when we are just “not feeling it.” It takes quite a bit of discernment to know if it’s worth it to push through, or if it’s not. If it is, pushing through is smart. If it’s not, you may have no choice – pushing through may still be required.

Good for those who have reached a point to where they don’t have to deal with the emotional roller coaster. But I’m sure that ride still exists for everyone – even those who have graduated to doing work that resonates with every fiber of their being. Come to think of it, do those people even exist?

I guess perspective is not as important as I thought. Sure, it may make the pushing through easier, or harder, but the perspective is always going to be what it is at the time. So what’s left? Whatever is left is the stuff to be dealt with. It’s the dirty stuff – it’s the stuff that can be tough to swallow. But it’s also the stuff that makes us stronger, makes us grow.

We won’t get stronger or grow, however, if we don’t push up and not through. If we spend all of our time pushing through, we just might stay on the same ride for longer than we bargained for. If we push up, we might make a bit of our own luck, and be able to switch to another, better ride.

The Secret to Life

Here’s the secret to life: become world class at everything you do.

I big problem I’ve faced in the past is being overwhelmed: looking around at everything I not only need to do, but want to do for myself, and noticing that it’s just too damn much. I don’t know where to start, so I don’t start anywhere.

Well, that’s a mistake. I’ve wasted months of my life not acting out of fear – simply because I didn’t get, on a deep, practical level – that all I had to do was pick something. But, as it turns out, picking something is actually the hardest part.

Going back to a couple of blog posts ago, where I brought up the first stage where the resistance is the most powerful (remember the “rocket ship” analogy?), the hardest part about any activity is the first part. Stephen Pressfield calls it “sitting down to work.” I’m sure there’s a thousand gurus out there who have their own distinct names for it.

But let’s face it: there are only twenty-four hours in a day. And of those hours, we do need to find time for the basics (sleep, diet, and exercise), and, whatever other pressing matters needing attention. Those come first, and whatever’s left, that’s where the real Work can happen.

Once we pick a few things, we’ve committed. We have to follow through until they’ve been mastered, or, at least, seen out to a degree we feel adequate. Since there is limited time for this process of mastery, we can develop systems with which to address each thing, and how often we’d like to address it. We can be as organized or as non-organized as we like – whatever works.

Once we stick with each Thing, something magical starts to happen – we begin to take on an intimacy with it, and a feeling that we are tackling it. Some things might take longer to tackle than others, but it’s the process that’s key.

It seems to me that’s what it means to be “world class” – you’re committed to a process. Not so concerned about the actual tackling. The tackling will happen if I stick with the Thing over a period of time. I’m not trying to rush it. I’m just interested in what I have to do today.