21 September 2011

Re-entering the World of Academia

Today, it begins: the first day of the next two years.  At 4:00 eastern time, I start my master's in professional writing and editing.

Two years ago, I was making the decision to wait on graduate school.  In fact, two years ago today, I was one and a half months into my position at the Ashton School of Santo Domingo.  I had five classes of Dominican children who disliked me (they came around eventually, but it took them awhile), and I was just starting to explore the country.

One year ago, I was leaving the Dominican Republic, returning to Boise for a few weeks, and then headed off to Vietnam.  And it was six months ago that my husband and I left Vietnam and returned to the States, leaving a region we fell in love with...but jobs we did not.

In a way, graduate school feels like a temporary stasis of travel.  That's fine--expected, even.  But I will miss that part of my life, and I will certainly miss the weekend trips, adventures, and even the danger.

So, today, I re-enter the world of academia.  But this time, it's on my terms: the program is exactly what I need and want to further my goals and career, and I think that the next two years will be rather pleasant, if not a little ordinary.

Here's to the next two years!

14 September 2011

Setting (and Keeping) Daily Goals

There aren't a lot of things I do right, but one thing I do well is setting and keeping goals. I set goals for myself every day, and they are always realistic, tangible goals that I know can (and will) be accomplished.  I'm very much a I-get-what-I-want-sort-of-person, and part of that is simply because I work to make it happen.  I set goals...and I keep them.  Every day.

I also set lifelong goals, although I don't focus on these with as much intensity.  I keep these goals in the back of my mind, and I have a very clear vision of them.  I see myself sitting in the office of my dreams, a detached studio next to the home of my dreams, doing what I love.  I see myself happy, accomplished, and wealthy.  I verbalize these goals, and I let myself believe in them.  Sometimes, when I'm tired or feeling like I just can't edit another page, create another design, or write another article, I think of my goals, and they motivate me.

You haven't ever done this, you say?  Well, let me help you get started:
  1. Think of the most pertinent things that you need to accomplish by the end of the week.  For example, on Monday, I had: 124 pages to edit, an ad to create for my business, an article to write, and the final review of a magazine.  Everything had to be done by Saturday, with separate due dates (the article and ad were due Wednesday morning).
  2. Estimate how long each task will take.  In my case: editing , 30 hours; ad, 6 hours; article, 4 hours; and magazine, 6 hours.  
  3. Prioritize the tasks.  In my example, the editing wasn't due until Saturday, but it takes consistent work every day to get it done in time.  The article and ad was due the soonest, so I gave that priority.  The magazine wasn't on a timeline per say, but it still needed prompt attention.  (Of note: I'd already finished a draft ad and the start to the article before Monday.)  So, my priorities were: ad, article, manuscript, magazine.
  4. Divide it up.  Divide your work by how many days you have to get it accomplished.  I divided the manuscript into four days, with Friday devoted to checking a new section.  The ad and article were divided into a full draft of each Monday and final product Tuesday.  The magazine will wait until Friday, and I'll work on it Saturday, too.  So, my goals every day through Friday looked like this:  Monday, 30 pages of manuscript, ad draft, article draft; Tuesday, 30 pages of manuscript, final ad, final article; Wednesday, 30 pages of manuscript; Thursday, 30 pages of manuscript; Friday, 5 pages of manuscript, proofread new section (20 pages), start magazine check; Saturday, finish magazine check.
  5. Remind yourself.  Every day, think through your goals and remind yourself what you have to accomplish; also, add any new items that have come about since you first set the goal for the day.  next, set a time of day that you'd like to finish the goal(s) by.  For example, "Today, I will edit 30 pages by 4:00 p.m., and then I will go for a run."  As you work, set smaller goals, such as, "I will finish 20 pages by 12:30 p.m., and then I'll take a short break to eat."  Setting smaller, specific goals (and meeting them) helps keep me motivated.
  6. Let yourself feel a sense of accomplishment.  You completed your goals!  Go you!
Sometimes I don't meet my goals, but I don't let it get me down--at those times, I just add a little bit more to the next day's goal.  Other times, I over-accomplish; Tuesday, for example, I edited 35 pages instead of 30.

While setting daily goals doesn't include everything I will do that day, it does help me prioritize the big stuff and stay motivated.  It gets easier with time, and eventually it becomes a habit.

07 September 2011

What's on Your Bucket List?

While I was teaching in the Dominican Republic, we did a unit on Tuesdays with Morrie.  It really is a lovely little book, and it got us, as a class, thinking about what we'd each individually like to do before we die.  Not in a creepy sense, but it a life-is-too-short sorta sense.  It prompted some interesting discussions, but I haven't really thought much about the topic since then.

Lately, though, I've been hearing a lot of talk about "bucket lists".  I can't help but wonder: do people actually write these things out?  I always thought of a bucket list as a metaphorical thing; it seemed that someone would say, "Oh, yeah, that's on my bucket list!" in reference to any cool thing he or she wanted to do.

Recently, someone specifically mentioned adding an item to his bucket list complete with a number, which gave me pause.  Do people really take these bucket lists seriously?  It seems so.

I think I'd like to get in on this bucket-list-havin' crowd.  So, below, I've started an initial bucket list.  It'll need some refinement, but it's a start, anyhow:

  1. Travel every continent of the world extensively.
  2. See the seven wonders of the modern and ancient world.
  3. Travel Ireland for several weeks/months.
  4. See Machu Picchu at sunrise.
  5. Skydive.
  6. Write and publish a book (as a sole author, not coauthor or editor).
  7. Take a Mediterranean cruise.
  8. Have artwork on display at an art museum.
  9. Build a house near water (preferably the ocean), with a separate writing and art studio.
  10. Take a big vacation alone to write, think, and explore.
  11. Run a half marathon (this may graduate to a full as I get older).
So, there is is--all written out and numbered.  I officially have a bucket list; it's definitely not a full list, but it's a start.  

What about you?  What's on your bucket list?

01 September 2011

Holy D*bt!

Original image found here

How many of us, at the I-know-any-and-everything age of 18, applied for a credit card?  Most of us were told that we needed it to build credit, to strengthen our score, to prepare for eventually buying a house.

Sure, yeah.  That makes sense.  Give an 18-year-old a credit card right before he or she moves into an empty apartment with an empty fridge.  Great plan.

Here's the problem: everywhere we turn, as Americans, we are bombarded with credit offers. It doesn't stop when you turn 18.  Heck, it sometimes doesn't even START when you turn 18.  Lots of us even got credit card offers as kids, and it just heightened after we became adults.

(Not that that's news to you.  We have a real debt problem in this country, so much so that the government just loves to keep us down.  How, you ask?  The costs of medical care and college are easily the easiest to accrue debt-wise, and we don't have much help from Uncle Sam there.  Of course, our good old uncle has debt himself, so we couldn't expect much help in that area.  Misery loves company, I guess, right?)

Let's look at a timeline of a typical American life, starting at age 18:

18-22:  Apply for first credit card. Apply for student loans. Start borrowing student loan money, usually above and beyond tuition. Graduate with so much debt that you can't even comprehend it.
23-25:  Nausea begins to set in when the first student loan bill comes, but luckily all graduates have a 6-month deferment. First "real" student loan bill comes.  File for a "financial hardship" deferment.  On a 28,000 salary with all that credit card debt, who can afford loans?
26-28:  Realize that your BA in art metals won't get you that swanky job on Wall Street.  Go to graduate school.  If you're lucky, get it paid for.  If you're not, take out more loans.  At this point, some medical debt has probably accrued.  Start paying on that, since it can't be deferred.  Make minimum plus payments on credit cards.
29-32:  Finance a house.  Finance a car.  Pay toward the cards.  Pay toward the medical debt.  Pay toward the student loans. 
...and so it goes.  Americans love debt.  Or, at least, we think we can't live without it.

Here are some scary statistics from creditcards.com:
$15, 799 -- the amount average household credit card debt.
3.5 -- the average amount of credit cards per household as of the end of year 2008 stats
13.10 percent -- the average APR on credit cards with a balance
$2.43 trillion -- the total of U.S. consumer debt
13 -- the number of credit obligations the average American has; this figure includes cars, cards, and homes, among others
Holy d*bt!!!

So, what's a practical, not-so-willing-to-become-a-slave-to-the-system guy or gal to do?  Let's think about this.
  1. Don't buy what you can't afford.
  2. Don't take trips you can't afford.
  3. Don't buy something with a credit card if you can't afford it right that second.
  4. Don't spend more money than you make.
  5. Set up a budget and stick to it...or at least know what you can spend on what.
  6. Don't lend money unless you can afford to lose it.
  7. Don't finance anything, except a house.
  8. Really, don't finance anything...even a car.
  9. Really, really don't finance anything at all.
  10. Seriously.
When will we stop being slaves to this debt cycle?  Can we teach our children (future children, in my case) to get out of this mindset and, rather, focus on buying things they can afford?

As I say this, I'm looking around my partially furnished duplex.  We haven't even bought a table yet, and the rooms we have furnished really aren't complete.  But, that's okay.  We've had four expensive international moves in the last two years, and we don't want to overextend ourselves.  Money in the bank is better than money owed to the bank.  And, our dining room might be table-less at this moment, but our fridge is full.  With grad school starting in three weeks, we'd be foolish to spend our reserves on furniture.  Better to be without stuff than to live with debt, I'd say.

What about you?  Are you a slave to debt?  If you are, when will you stop living a life of indentured servitude and move toward a life of financial freedom?

I'm still working toward that.  Those student loans I took out in college don't pay themselves, and I'm counting down the days until I can scream, "I'm debt free!" Until then, I'm not borrowing another penny. No sir-y.

Stories? Advice? Suggestions? Pondering? Do tell!