Temp Worker

For those of you who have been kindly following me on this blog, you probably have noticed that I have been thoroughly enjoying my non-working, retired life.   My former job was so stressful; I could never get ahead and was always playing catch-up, no matter how many hours a day I worked.  And I have written about being untethered from email – what an unexpected wonder that has been, in addition to being free from the countless, never-ending responsibilities that were placed upon me with my former position.

So when I got an email from one of the marketing directors at my former company asking me if I wanted to do some temporary, part-time work, I surprised myself by saying yes!

Why did I say yes?   First, I respect and like the women who need my help – I like them a lot.  Second, though it is related to my former job, it’s not my former job.  Third, it’s decent money and because it’s part-time, I still have a lot of flexibility every day, something I didn’t want to relinquish.  I am limited to 20 hours a week, so the work can’t take over my life, and I can break up those 20 hours any way that I wish, since my deadlines will be weekly.  Finally, it’s writing, not selling, and so it fits with my goal of developing this new craft of mine.

I must admit to some misgivings after agreeing.   However, what I have discovered is that even though I am back on Outlook with a company email, I am a stealth employee; I am not on any company lists so I am not getting dozens of emails a day.   I am not servicing customers or learning consultants, so I am not getting those emails either, which were the emails that usually caused me the most stress.   I am only responsible to Jill, my manager, and there is a sort of liberation in only having to answer to one person, not hundreds as with my former role.

Finally, the work itself is interesting.  I am writing scripts for training videos for a variety of our digital products.  These are the same products that I used to train instructors to use in person.  However, instead of speaking the instructions to a live audience, I now must write the instructions with two audiences in mind – the person who will be producing the video, and the instructor who will be using the video to learn how to use the product.   This requires that I not only think about the best way to instruct an end user, but that I think about what the video producer will be doing as they speak my written instructions.   So, I need to tell the producer what they need to be doing as they speak my explanations, and I need to be as clear as possible so that there is no confusion on the part of the person who will ultimately be watching and hoping to learn what I am teaching.   I must also make sure that what I am writing exactly matches the commands in the digital product because I won’t be there to clarify my instructions as I would have had I been doing the training in person.

So, even though I still know these programs so well I could train someone in my sleep, writing these scripts is an exciting challenge because of the new way that I am forced to think about them.   I am finding this fascinating, and it is engaging both sides of my brain – the left, logical side and the right, creative side.   It’s a different kind of writing than writing this blog or writing a memoir, but it’s still writing with a purpose, and it’s writing about something that I know.

Dames Untamed

interfaithfoodpantry

Recently a cable TV network ran a Mother’s Day movie marathon that they called “Dames Untamed”, highlighting movies with strong female leads like Thelma and Louise and You’ve Got Mail – what many refer to as “chick flicks”.

I thought it wonderfully appropriate for me to use that title to describe two of the three non-profits where I volunteer.   Both of these non-profits are run by powerful cadres of women, all volunteers in service to the missions of the organizations.  I stand in awe of these women!!!

The first is FISH which stands for Friends in Service to Humanity.   This is a local charity that for 30 years has provided food and clothing to local residents in need.   All the food and clothing are donated, and the woman who delivers the food keeps the food pantry in her basement!   FISH supplements the local social service agencies, providing assistance that these agencies can’t provide, or can’t deliver when the need is urgent.

There is a hotline that people in need within the municipalities that FISH serves can call and FISH volunteers respond to the messages seven days a week.   Often, it is someone who is waiting for their food stamps to start, or whose circumstances have suddenly grown worse and can’t wait to wade through the red tape.   FISH doesn’t have an office or any overhead – there is a board and committee chairs who handle the various tasks like keeping a calendar of the phone volunteers and soliciting donations from the community; everyone is a volunteer.

FISH recently helped a man fighting cancer who could only digest strawberry Ensure and was able to survive because FISH delivered weekly supplies of it to his home.  I do not know of a government agency who could have performed this service.   The stories of those in need are endless;  I have taken calls from people needing help paying their rent because of an injury or with an urgent need for food for their children.   FISH also maintains a children’s clothing pantry.

I love the fact that FISH is helping people in my local community and that everything I donate goes to the people in need.   I don’t have to worry about corruption or administrative expenses taking a significant cut of what I donate.

Another women-led non-profit is Impact100 Garden State whose mission is “to engage women in philanthropy by collectively providing high impact grants to nonprofits serving the counties of Morris, Passaic, Somerset, or Sussex.   Our goals are to provide transformational funds to organizations that reach under-served populations; to raise the profile of those that are deserving but lesser-known; and to highlight unmet needs in the areas of Arts and Culture, Children and Families, Education, Environment, and Health and Wellness.”

Since 2013, Impact100 Garden State has awarded over $700,000 in grants to help New Jersey veterans, the homeless and food insecure, preschool children from low-income families, at-risk youth, and the disabled and elderly.

Here is what is unique about Impact100 – to become a member, you are asked to contribute $1000 a year, no small thing.  The membership money becomes the source of the funding for the grants (no fundraising required of its members), and all this membership money is pooled for the grants it awards; none is wasted on any administrative costs.   As a member, you can get involved in a variety of committees (for example, a grant review committee), or you can do nothing other than vote on the grants that have become finalists at a yearly membership meeting.   Impact100 has chapters all over the country and each one works within a local geographic area; you may have one in your neck of the woods and not even know about it.   The Impact100 Garden State just celebrated the close of its membership drive, and because we have 282 members, we have $282,000 in grant money to award to our grant finalists this year!   Amazing!

I only became a member last fall, so I am still learning a great deal about Impact100, but the women that I have met so far are just phenomenal – women from all industries and ages – talented and smart and natural leaders in their fields.   If leadership could be measured in kilowatts, the light from these women would light up our solar system.    Like the women of FISH, the women of Impact100 have seen the need in their communities and have decided to do something about it.

If you would like to learn more about either of these non-profits, or become an “untamed dame” yourself, leave me a message.   I will be writing about my third non-profit involvement in a future blog post.

Balancing Acts

toomanyballs

For most of my adult working life, especially since becoming a parent, I have had to struggle with finding that proverbial work/life balance.   Hundreds of articles and books have been written about the subject, and for me, I never found any magic formula; I just took each day as it came and tried my best. I think most of us probably operate that way with greater or lesser degrees of success on any given day.  Certainly, there is an amount of prioritizing that has to be considered; for example, laundry could be put off  if everyone still had clothes to wear the next day, but when I worked, there were customers of mine that couldn’t wait for a response from me, so answering emails and phone calls would often take precedence over housework or even playing with my kids.

Part of our sales training years ago when I worked for Houghton Mifflin involved a session on time management, and I remember my dear friend Melissa Zantello, one of our trainers, explaining Steven Covey’s grid that divided tasks into quadrants – Important, Not Important, Urgent, Not Urgent.  Most of us spend the majority of our time in the Not Important quadrants.   His system was simple and useful, but the big takeaway for me was this line of Covey’s, “Always remember that whenever you say ‘yes’ to something, you are saying ‘no’ to something else.”   If you are with a customer, you are not at your child’s school play or soccer game.   If you are cooking dinner, you are not getting that spreadsheet finished.   If you are at the movies, you aren’t painting your deck.   If you are with customer A, you aren’t with customer B.  Any decision that we make on what we do with our time involves NOT doing something else during that time.  So, the key is to choose wisely or you find yourself doing a lot of things that aren’t bringing you the results that you want, either in your work life or home life.

So now that I am retired and work isn’t a part of my daily life, I have realized that I am still in need of a balancing act.   What I mean is that now that I can devote my time to almost whatever I want, I am finding that I have so many interests, I have to figure out a way to prioritize them and impose some kind of time management system upon myself.  I never saw that coming!  I want to write but how much time should I devote to it and when? When do I exercise?  Declutter all that crap in the basement?   Work with that non-profit?  Try out a new recipe or craft?  Visit with friends?  Take an online course? Reconnect with someone I haven’t seen in years?   Weed the garden and plant perennials?   Help my husband or son or daughter with a project?

I love the flexibility and spontaneity of my new freedom, but I need to find a way to follow another Covey maxim:  The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.  The challenge for me now is to figure out how I can better prioritize my time so that I get what I want accomplished while at the same time maintaining the flexibility and spontaneity that I now cherish.   I don’t want to end up scheduling my time to the point where I feel like I am juggling too many balls again, but I also don’t want to end up juggling too few.  So, until I figure this out, I will continue to make it up as I go along.   Any comments or ideas are most welcome.

Thanks and Happy Mother’s Day to all the queens of time management out there, my fellow Moms!

 

Money, Money, Money

“Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man’s world…”   Abba song lyrics

“Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay and you’re O.K.
Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash…”  Pink Floyd song lyrics

Many friends, especially younger ones, have asked me how I am able to do it, that is, retire at my age.   I suppose that many people plan it out – set a goal for how much they will save per week, month, year, and know exactly how much money they will need to retire.   I was not one of those people!

I have to admit that I am not very good with money – that I have never fully understood the world of investments and Wall Street, that I vastly prefer to spend money than save it, and that I had no idea how much I needed to save in order to retire comfortably.   I will give myself credit, however, for contributing to my company’s 401K starting in my twenties, and I remember my sister-in-law Sara teasing me about it at the time; she thought I was being quite precocious.   I hope that everyone reading this who has a job that offers a 401K is taking advantage of it – it is by far the easiest way to sock away money as it is taken automatically out of your paycheck, it is tax-free until you withdraw it, and your company matches a certain percentage of what you contribute.   I know, as God is my witness, that I would never have saved the money that I have without the 401K way, so I thank whatever Congress or government agency first implemented the program.   Even if you don’t have a 401K offered through your employer, there are other IRA options like Roth IRAs.

I won’t dissemble here – my husband and I worked really hard throughout our lives, and we always lived below our means.   I took off a few years to stay home with my kids when they were young, (I have never regretted that decision) and we were able to live on one income because we saved more than we spent.   It also helped that I worked in sales and that enabled me to make bonus money in addition to my salary, and I saved rather than spent most of my bonuses.

But my husband was the real genius with money and with making the right decisions about money – he bought a business, worked hard for 20 plus years, and when the time was right, sold it for a nice profit.   Those decisions allowed us to pay off our mortgage and gave us another nest egg in addition to the IRAs.   Finally, my dear sweet aunt passed away in 2009 and left me with a very generous inheritance, which has been the icing on the cake.  So all those circumstances came together so that when my financial advisors told me that I was in the position where I could retire at any time,  I was ready to do it.

So here’s my advice for those of you who are interested:

  • Use a 401K or IRA to start saving whatever you can now.   It’s never too late.
  • If you can, put money away that you can invest that is NOT in an IRA, and find someone you can trust to manage it for you.   IRAs are great in that you don’t pay taxes on that money until you start to take it out (presumably at a lower tax rate), but many people forget that they still have to pay the taxman when they withdraw.
  • Make wise choices about how you spend your money.   Life is short so don’t skip the vacation to Disney World with your kids, but find the less important things you can count out like that $4.00 cup of coffee.   I never felt like we deprived ourselves of anything, but we never bought the McMansion either because it wasn’t a priority for how we wanted to live our lives.  As one of my favorite textbook authors has written, it’s all about making wise choices.

Dogwood and Other Delights

dogwood

Spring has sprung in NJ, and my favorite blooming tree is the dogwood.   Sadly, the blooms don’t last very long, but when you see its flowers, especially against a backdrop of other non-blooming trees, it’s like nature has laid bolts of lace across the various layers of the tree canopy.

Crazy-crunch time for my previous job was spring – our worst months were April and May, and I used to joke that T.S. Eliot must have been a book rep because he wrote the line, “April is the cruelest month”.  So one of the lovely benefits of my retirement has been that I have had the luxury of being able to truly revel in the art show that nature has been producing these last few weeks.   Here in NJ, it seems as if one week everything is winter blah gray, and seemingly overnight everything is suddenly magnificently spring green and in bloom.   I know it’s a cliche to take time to stop and smell the roses, but without a doubt, there is so much value in doing it and feeding your soul.

In addition to feeling more intensely alive and aware of the world being “puddle-wonderful” (a line from an e e cummings’ poem), I now have the time to write – not just this blog, but a memoir that I have wanted to write for years.   I may share some of it on this blog when I feel it’s ready, but it has been as soul-nurturing for me as appreciating the miracle of spring.  Writing requires a lot of self-reflection and discipline, but the creative process is something that I have missed for a long time, and once again I find myself feeling so grateful for being able to immerse myself in this long-forgotten delight.

One more delight before I sign off – I have rediscovered some wonderful poetry, a pastime that hasn’t been on my “to do” list of late.   Here is a verse from an e e cummings’ poem that I love (he really knew how to write about spring):

i thank You God for this most amazing day:

for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

Enjoy everything that is “yes” in your life!

Untethered

tetherball

Not sure that playgrounds still contain tetherball poles, but they were a staple of playgrounds when I was a child.   The ball was tied or tethered to the pole, so it could only go out so far, no matter how hard anyone hit it.  I don’t remember all the rules, but two people basically swatted it back and forth to each other, and I think the idea was to get your opponent unable to hit it back to you by getting the rope wrapped around the pole.  I think at some point they were seen as dangerous, as way too many children got hit on the head with the ball as it spun back around to them.

People have asked me what is the biggest change since retiring, and the word “untethered” comes to mind.   I used to check email as soon as I got up in the morning, throughout the day, before I went to bed, and often on weekends.   Yes, this was my neurotic obsession, and I could have made the decision to shut it off more than I did, but I was in a position where customers depended upon me to help them with their technology, and I felt a responsibility to be available to them at all times.   I knew email was a huge time-sucking part of my life, but I had no idea how free I would feel once my work email shut off.   I was free of the dozens, sometimes hundreds, of Outlook emails that had to be read, acted upon, replied to, and cataloged for future reference!  Now I could read my gmail whenever I wanted, and no one would be upset or frantic if I didn’t reply to them within a few hours.  You have no idea how liberating this is until it actually happens to you!   The ball on the cord has been ripped off and launched into space.   It is truly the thing that has surprised me the most – how much I was chained to email and how wonderful to be free of its choke-hold on my time.

The other big change is the need to always be productive.   I didn’t feel like I was doing my job unless every minute of the work-day was scheduled, and that everything on my “to do” list got checked off.   There were certainly deadlines imposed upon me by my work; reports and spreadsheets and presentations to complete, but much of the stress to produce tangible results was self-driven.   I had come to love sales over the years, but the worst part of having a sales career is that there is always a number hanging over your head, and no matter how good and smart and respected and loved by your customers, you live or die by that artificial number imposed upon you.   Now I no longer have to judge what I accomplish every day by any measure other than what I impose upon myself.   If I decide to clean out a closet, or work on a chapter of a book I am writing, or plant flowers, and none of those tasks gets done today, so what?   I can do them tomorrow or the next day.  What a total obvious but still totally surprising revelation this has become for me!  My life is almost totally free of deadlines and the obsession to accomplish goals, and they are all now activities that I want to do – like buying a bridal shower gift before the date, or getting tickets to a show before they sell out.   I don’t have to produce anything!   I don’t have to show results or prove to the world that I am working hard, working smart, and producing anything that will make me valuable to some company’s bottom line.

This is not to say that I don’t have goals, but my goals now revolve around people and things that I love and that bring happiness to myself and others.

For someone who has worked in a very competitive and stressful industry for more than thirty years, I don’t know if I can adequately convey how freeing this is for me.   It’s like I am a school child and school has let out for the summer, only it’s always summer.   My older brother, who has been retired for a few years now, told me that for him the best part of retirement is Sunday night, when he realizes that he doesn’t have to go to work the next morning.   My work was often extremely rewarding and the people that I have met over the course of my career some of the finest people I will ever know, but giving it up is even more wonderful than I imagined it to be.  I am truly blessed to be able to decide how I want to spend act three of my life.  Stay tuned for lots more and thanks for following along with me!