Sunday, July 17, 2016

#11: Go offline for a whole month

As "offline" as it gets. Me, my mom, and my brother at Big Bend National Park, circa 1999-ish?

I work in the tech industry, at a job that requires me to be plugged in and logged in every workday. So, when I plotted out this particular goal, my idea was never that I was going to move out into the mountains for a month and work on my novel in a cabin warmed by firewood (although if you'd like to fund such an endeavor, please feel free to leave a comment or wire money). From the start, my plan was to ban myself from the internet after I left work each weekday, and stay off of it on the weekends. I picked the month of June to try and tackle this feat, because now that I'm back to my team management gig, it's often tough to unplug at home.

At the start of this goal, the fear of missing out felt very strong. I swore off of Instagram altogether, and barely peeked at Facebook on breaks at work. I wondered at the life achievements I was missing my friends make, the cute baby and/or puppy photos that would go forever unseen. But after about a week of cutting myself off from constant social check-ins...I found I not only didn't miss it, but I was relieved by breaking free. There was nothing I felt like I had to compulsively keep up on, so I was allowed to just live my life out in the world.

My only book credit thus far lives in this here Rob Sheffield outfit.

Other than feeling less anxious about keeping up with everyone at all times, one of the greatest things I gained from this experiment was reading a whole lot more. I finished two books written by my latest authorial-obsession, Lauren Groff, and sometimes, as Zack was making dinner after I got home from work...I just sat. Yep, just sat on the couch quietly, doing nothing but breathing. This is very difficult for me to do, so by being able to simply sit, I found that I felt much more in control of myself. It was a comforting and refreshing feeling.

This has been a big part of my life over the last month.

In my free time after work (of which there seemed to be much more all of a sudden), I indulged in my new favorite things: reading Groff, listening to African Jazz vinyl, playing cards with my husband, and going to my boxing class. Occasionally, a friend or family member would ask if I'd seen the link they posted on my Facebook wall, and I'd have to shrug and say, "No, since it's Saturday I won't be checking again until Monday on a work break." And I discovered that this didn't kill me, and nobody disowned me for my disconnection.

I tried to keep my "rules" surrounding this goal loose so I wouldn't beat myself up for "failing." That's why I still allowed some social connection while I was at work, and why I didn't get upset with myself when, during the last week of the month, I had to go online in order to finish up some work (and went on some of my favorite blogs in the process). This has also instilled in me the freedom to institute this practice periodically from now on - one permanent change I made was to turn off notifications for most of my apps, so that my iPhone wasn't constantly forcing my next steps. I'll peek on Instagram at times, but it's less compulsory now. I feel somewhat freed from my electronics and accounts.

I've lost my footing a little in my newfound freedom, because in moving back to my old job I've had difficulty with balance. I'm hopeful, though, that I can return to this practice, or at least continue to be selective in how I spend my time (e.g. using my Calm app to practice meditation instead of Insta-stalking people I don't know). By disconnecting from the virtual reality of Teh Webz, I've been able to feel a lot more awake IRL, and it feels good.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

#15: Be debt free

Of all of the goals I set to meet before I turn 30, becoming debt free was arguably the most important. I've saddled tens of thousands of dollars in debt for the past decade (give or take a few years) of my life. This was primarily due to my student loans I had to take out to attend the University of Texas at Austin. Despite earning thousands of dollars in scholarships from my 4.0 high school GPA and extracurricular activities, I still ended up having to take on over $20,000 in loans for tuition, books and board, and my dad took on more than double that. By the time I started this blog, I'd just paid off that debt — in late January of this year, I was able to close out what I owed, and it was like an elephant that had been sitting on my chest finally decided to stand up and move on.

So, I expected that when I paid off the credit card debt I'd accrued (close to $10,000, almost 100% because of my wedding last year), it'd feel like a monster truck driving off of me or something. The freedom! The ability to save money!! I was looking forward to the relief — banking on it, really.

Now, here we are:  I paid my final payment towards my credit card about two weeks ago, a combination of selling some stock and pinching pennies to make it happen even faster than I expected to. I was hoping to be debt-free by 30, but when my husband suddenly showed a more proactive interest in saving for a house, I made it work faster. I found a way to be at 0, and in two more weeks, I'll get to put about $1,000 into savings for the first time in my life.

And yet — I have to be honest. My life doesn't feel drastically changed. I still find myself nervous about money, worried that I'll have to use my credit card for something again soon, bummed because I was hoping to put more in savings before having to buy a car (and this just simply isn't possible, my car has informed me, via its refusal to allow my air conditioner to work for more than 20 minutes at a time in the Texas summer whose heat index makes it feel like 104 every day). It still feels like I'm on the edge of falling into a debt pit again soon.

How it feels in my car when I'm stuck on I-35.

I can't fully figure out why this is. I don't know if I'll just need to save up a few thousand dollars before I can feel like I can totally breathe, or if it's the fact that, despite trying to scrimp and save for a house now, I still allowed myself to make a few "I've had a rough week" purchases this past week from my achilles-heel shops (ModCloth, L'Occitane and VINCA). I'm definitely excited about my upcoming car purchase, even though that'll technically put me back into debt (but since this is a monthly payment, I'm not counting it in my student loan/credit card threshold of debt that this goal was about).

My new favorite wasting-time-in-an-app app.

I know my personality in general is typically pretty impatient, and so I'm thinking that the reason I don't feel completely lighter-than-air jubilant is because I want to suddenly have savings available to buy a house RIGHT NOW, and that's just not the reality. I still love my apartment on 6th street, so I don't know why I'm in such a rush — I'm hoping I can take a deep breath and continue to take each day at a time. And, I'm hoping I can be a little easier on myself since I did just achieve a HUGE accomplishment, and will be saving money starting with my very next paycheck! I'm just hopeful I can find a good balance in my life between saving for important things and being responsible, and occasionally treating myself because all we have is now. It's that humanoid life tug-of-war we all have to deal with, and sometimes a pair of giant donut earrings is OK, if it's balanced with a nice chunk of savings.