Financial Hardship

Journey to Gratitude: Day 37

What a roller coaster week this has been!

As you know, we found a remarkable deal on somewhat of a “dream house” last weekend, and on a whim, decided to go for it. Our offer was considerably outbid by a cash offer, and though disappointed, we made peace with the fact that “it just wasn’t meant to be”.

I had moved on so much that I was exploring other options to supplement my career in the meantime. In fact, I just sat in on a webinar today and made a deposit on a training certification program for Color Code – a personality assessment of sorts that teaches ways to interact with others based on their “color” (and the motives behind that color). By getting certified as a trainer, I could go out and teach workshops about the Color Code – a perfect compliment to the coaching career that I’m working towards.

Literally within 30 minutes of wrapping up this seminar and paying my deposit (which – thank God – is refundable), Blaine called with unbelievable news. In fact, it was so unbelievable that it left me speechless and in shock: we got the house! I didn’t believe him at first, as Blaine is notorious for pulling pranks. But alas, he was telling the truth. The cash offer apparently backed out or fell through, and we were the next best viable offer on the list. So if the inspection and all goes well, we will be moving in one month to the lake!

I’m sure that I will have many more gratitude posts around this particular subject, but for today, I am just thankful that the house is even a possibility. With all of the hardship that we have been through the past few years (and usually at this time of year, in fact), it feels like a breath of fresh air to finally receive some good news!

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Journey to Gratitude: Days 30-35

Life happens. While I made a note of my gratitude items each day, I did not get a chance to post them. So here’s the past week:

Day 30:
Today, I saw AMERICAN SNIPER (which was excellent, by the way). I am always amazed by those who have the courage and passion to serve this country, as I don’t think I could stand on the battle lines. So today I am thankful for those who serve our country to protect our freedom.

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Day 31:
Bella just turned 2 a couple of weeks ago. While the time is going by so very quickly, I am also thankful for this age. She can finally communicate with words her needs and wants, she understands commands from me, and best of all, we can go “play”! She is at such a fun age where she is curious about everything and has such a great awareness of the world around her. I can now take her to playgrounds and kids’ museums and the zoo – so many fun places!

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Day 32:
This weekend, Blaine and I stumbled upon an amazing deal on a foreclosed house for ourselves. In talking about the possibility of pursuing it, I decided to bring up my credit score. For those who haven’t followed my story, I filed bankruptcy during the peak of the recession (following job loss and all that comes with that). Four years later, I am in a much better place, and have managed to pay off all remaining debt (the car and my hefty student loans were excluded from the bankruptcy). Today, I am thankful for second chances and the ability to rebuild after tragedy, as my credit score is the highest it has ever been!

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Day 33:
My work team has seen A LOT of changes over the past year. Namely, we have gone through an entire culture change, nearly a complete turnover of our HPLT (high performance leadership team), and turnover of a third or so of our team members. It was a tough road, but we are in SUCH a better place now as a result, and 2015 is already off to an amazing start! Today, I am thankful for the new faces at our HPLT table, as I think we have a strong, cohesive team to propel us to the next level!

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Day 34:
Blaine and I put in an offer for the house we found over the weekend, and I became so excited and fixated on it that I was already imagining where we would put things. I could just *see* and *FEEL* us in this house. Alas, it was not in God’s plan, as someone swooped in with a cash offer well above our financed offer. I was heartbroken. And yet, it was a reminder that I need to learn to trust in God’s plan for us. This house or this time just wasn’t right, and there is other business we need to take care of before we settle into our dream home. Today, as hard as it is to swallow, I am thankful for that reminder.

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Day 35:
I was pretty disappointed about not getting that house. Blaine was trying to be encouraging that we would one day have our house, but maybe the timing wasn’t right and we need to get some other business aligned first. This loss gave us an opportunity to discuss many things – our present, our future, and most of all, how fortunate we are to have all that we currently have. I love theses moments when we can really connect with emotional intimacy and have a great chat about life. We don’t get those moments often – mostly because life is so busy and we don’t take (or make) the time to pause and have these discussions. So today, I am thankful for this rare gem that has the power to refuel our marriage and remind us why we have chosen each other.

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Journey to Gratitude: Day 15

Growing up, our family always struggled with money. My parents didn’t have the best financial skills, and therefore didn’t teach great habits to us kids either. As an adult, I continued to struggle with money until I was faced with filing bankruptcy. During that process, I had to take some courses on budgeting and such, and only then did I learn what it meant to be smart with money.

When I met Blaine, he was already worlds ahead of me. Two years later, he began realizing his vision for an investment in foreclosures that he could turn into rental properties. In 2012, he bought the first rental house, with the goal of buying one per year for 10 years. Just over 2 years later, we have 6 properties. As of today, he signed contracts on 2 more, bringing our total to 8 (well, 9 properties of you include my condo in Knoxville that has been rented out since I relocated to Bristol). The plan has escalated faster than I think either of us ever imagined, and it has been a lot of hard work renovating the properties and finding good tenants (especially since 7 of the 8 properties have come about in just the past 14 months). But when all is said and done, it has been a tremendous blessing!

Today, I am thankful for my husband’s ambition and foresight to build this side business, which will ultimately secure our family’s future. With all of the other obstacles and tragedies we’ve had to deal with these past couple of years, it’s nice to know that money is not an added pressure amidst the life struggles.

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Journey to Gratitude: Day 8

I woke up at 5:45am today with a migraine so bad that I couldn’t go back to sleep. I decided to go ahead and get up, only to see the temp on our outdoor thermometer sitting at 7 degrees. It’s hard to be thankful on a morning like that.

It is days like today that challenge you to find gratitude where you typically take for granted. So today I am thankful for my house and the luxury of heat! So many struggle this time of year to have shelter or pay the power bill. We are very fortunate that we don’t have to struggle for either. My heart goes out to those less fortunate on these frigid winter days (and nights). May I never have to know what that struggle is like.

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HOW TO: Stretch Your Groceries and Plan Family Meals

I don’t claim to be an expert who has “the” answers, as I recognize that there are many people out there with lots of great ideas.  Just check Pinterest to see all the crafty moms out there with beautifully decorated homes who still find time to make ornate food that looks like it should be on display somewhere versus being eaten by their families.  I am not that mom/wife.  Our baby’s room is a hodgepodge of themes, wall hangings, and furniture – all of them very practical, but not worthy of being posted on Pinterest.  The food I prepare tastes good (or so I am told), but is not Top Chef worthy, nor am I crafty enough to make cute displays that look like little animals or my daughter’s favorite Bubble Guppy.

What I can offer, however, is practicality and frugality.  My forte is organization that makes sense in a world that is busy.  I don’t have the time or energy to comb over coupons or sale ads for hours on end, nor am I crafty enough to make cute charts that look like that belong in a teacher’s elementary school classroom.  My husband and I are pretty simple people.  What I bring to you are tips from our simple, frugal life that I hope you will find helpful.

Today, I bring you tips on stretching your dollars in your family meals.  I do “big” grocery shopping twice per month, with some smaller trips in between to get fresh produce or other small items that may pop up.  We do have a monthly allotment budgeted for our grocery items, and I work very hard to stick to that.  If I happen to have coupons (and remember to take them), I will use them, but most of the time I do NOT have coupons.  If you have time and enjoy sifting through coupons, more power to you – extra savings, woohoo!  My version of couponing is checking my local grocer’s ad for the meat and produce specials and planning my meals around those.  I then get my other goods – boxed items, household goods, etc – from WalMart or Sam’s Club.  I know the average prices of my regular items, and I watch for them to be on sale.  When they are on a good special, I stock up.

Here are some of my little tricks for stretching our groceries:

1.  Based on the meat specials at the grocery store, make a list of what meals you will make with those meats.
I list out first which meats I will buy, and then think of what I can do with those meats.  For example, this week I may plan to get a roast, cubed steak, chicken breasts, ground beef, and pork chops.  From there, I may decide to do a roast with potatoes and carrots, cubed steak with mashed potatoes, chicken casserole with the chicken breasts, sloppy joes with tater tots with the ground beef, and BBQ baked pork chops with some veggies.

2.  Complete the grocery list with sides, other needed ingredients, snacks, and lunch and breakfast items.
It should be noted here that I keep a running grocery list on my fridge, where I list items that are running low (or in some cases, have run out) as I discover them.  I HATE to run completely out of anything, so I usually add it to my list when it gets low.  If it is an item that goes quickly, I add it when it gets about halfway used, but if it’s an item that goes more slowly, I wait until there is maybe a quarter of it left.  So when I get ready to do my grocery shopping, I already have a list started.  I add the meats on special, then the sides to go with those, and then any special ingredients I may need (e.g. cream of chicken soup, BBQ sauce, tortillas, etc).  I finish off my list with snacks, lunch items (e.g. lunch meat, cheese, bread, Hot Pockets, soups, salad stuff, etc), and breakfast items (we eat cereal or oatmeal most mornings during the week, but I prepare a big breakfast on the weekends).  The most important takeaway here is that EVERYTHING goes on the list.  Sure, there may be an item or two that you forgot about and remember it when you get to the store, but otherwise stick to the list.  NO IMPULSE PURCHASES.
SIDE NOTE:  Plan for the unexpected.  Have 2 or 3 meal options that are easy but flexible for those “just in case” nights.  One of our go-to meals is tuna salad with mac and cheese.  It’s quick and easy, but also keeps on the shelf, so we pull it out if we need something fast, or if other meals have run out.  It’s also a good go-to if you have a night where you maybe have plans to go out the next night, and therefore will not be eating leftovers (you can make just enough for that night’s dinner, or eat any leftover tuna for the next day’s lunch).

3.  Learn to love leftovers.
I love to cook, but I don’t love to cook everyday.  Our rules for meals are as follows: each meal lasts for two dinners, and after two days, you may then – and only then – eat those leftovers for a lunch.  When planning my meals, I keep this in mind, so I buy enough ingredients to make a large meal to last two days.  Sometimes that means doubling or even tripling a recipe.  It also means observing portion control (which will also be good for your waistline).  I always remember my mom saying things like, “It’s a shame that I spend all this time in the kitchen for everyone to eat and be done in 20 minutes”.  I guess I don’t feel it has to be that way.  If you really enjoy a meal, why not enjoy it two or three times?  To me, it makes it more worth my effort to be able to enjoy a meal for longer than 20 minutes.  It also gives me two or three nights a week where I don’t have to stress about cooking – winning!  Extra bonus: it’s typically cheaper to make a larger batch of one meal than to make two separate meals.

4.  Make a meals list, and cross them off as you make/use them.     015
Once home from the store, I make a list of all the meals I’ve acquired.  I don’t like to assign them to specific days.  I know some people do meal assignments for the week or even the month, and that’s cool.  I just personally prefer to have more flexibility in my choices.  Sometimes things come up and I need a quicker meal.  Other times I feel like being a gourmet chef and spending a couple of hours in the kitchen.  I like options.  So I make a list of what all I have – just go down and say “#1 – Roast with potatoes & carrots, #2 – Sloppy joes with tater tots” and so on.  At the bottom, I make another small list of all of the sides I have on hand – corn, broccoli, salad stuff, mixed vegetables, etc.  Again, I like options, so this allows me to see what all I have – at a glance, and without digging through the freezer – and I can just pick which sides/veggies I want to have with each meal.  I buy a variety of veggies when I do my grocery shopping – both fresh and frozen – and I try to have at least one vegetable with each meal, sometimes two.
RULE OF THUMB – When choosing which meal to make, choose the ones with fresher ingredients FIRST, so that you don’t get stuck with produce and such that is going bad.  Once you have worked through all the ones requiring fresh produce/ingredients, you can move onto your frozen or boxed options.

Using the tips above, I am usually able to make our groceries last for about 2-2 1/2 weeks.  Again, I may have to make a weekly quick run to refresh produce or grab an ingredient I forgot, but the bulk of our groceries lasts from major trip to major trip.  Not only does it save time not having to go to the store all the time, but it saves money because I am sticking to a plan versus making impulse purchases.

What tips/tricks have you found to help make your groceries stretch?

Negotiate Your Best Deal

 

As I have mentioned, I went through a bankruptcy a couple of years ago.  A couple of months after the bankruptcy was discharged, I had to take my car in for repairs.  The following article was written after that experience…

Today, I took my car in for an oil change.  I decided while I was there, I would have them check these pesky lights that kept lighting up on my dashboard – one for tire pressure, one for the vehicle stability assist system.  I had hoped both were covered under warranty.  Unfortunately, they were not covered.  Not only were these not covered under warranty, I was told of two other items I needed to have replaced.  

My first reaction was one of panic.  I just went through a bankruptcy and have just been getting back on my feet with a savings account cushion, and a sizeable chunk was about to be sucked away by numerous car repairs.  I then jumped to anger, because as reason set in, I suspected I might be taken for a bit of a ride.  And then my years of management experience kicked in, and I jumped into negotiation mode.  In hindsight reflection, I realized that not everyone (particularly women) would have been equipped with the skills, knowledge, and reason to negotiate with a service man at a dealership.

Please note here that I was dealing with a service associate – a middle man who relays information from the mechanics to the customer.  Their purpose is to make the customer experience more pleasant by presenting a professional demeanor and appear to be taking care of the customer with a one-on-one approach.  However, a service associate is also somewhat of a salesman, as he takes the mechanic’s suggestions for service and tries to “sell” these repairs to the customer by making the problems sound serious enough for immediate repair.

For me, negotiation has become a survival instinct – a fight-or-flight response that kicks in, particularly where money is involved.  As I mentioned, I just went through a bankruptcy.  I am slowly rebuilding my life on a very limited budget, and while I have a savings for emergencies, I have to ensure that every dollar spent is spent wisely.  But negotiation hasn’t always come so easily for me.  I have had a few wise mentors along the way, particularly in fitness sales (which, let’s face it, are equivalent to our stigma of the “used car salesman” – very aggressive and tell you what you want to hear).

Here’s what I’ve learned about the art of negotiation:   

1.  Identify your needs (versus your WANTS).
What do you absolutely need from this product (i.e. cannot live without)?  Now, what would you like to have from this product, but can ultimately do without if push comes to shove?  Be realistic.  For me, “needs” now equate to survival, and “wants” are things that can wait a while longer.  I need a car that runs well and keeps me safe.  Today, I needed an oil change.  The lights going off on my dash may simply be electrical, and may not be signaling an emergency situation.  I need a mechanic to tell me the difference.

2.  Ask the associate what options you have based on your requests.
Always present your “wants” to the associate as part of your “needs” package.  Go for the gold, as they say…but be willing to settle for the bronze.  But, as in poker, keep your cards hidden.  You have to play it cool and play the cards at the right moment to get the result that you want.  In my case, I requested a full service check, but wanted to know prices before any work was completed.  He came back with a list of prices for my requests, plus two more items that he claimed needed to be replaced.

3.  Be firm…and be willing to walk away.  For real.
I came in expecting to pay for an oil change.  I anticipated some fees for whatever else they may have found wrong, but planned to spend no more than about $100.  His total was $255 – and that was just for a new battery, new brake switch, oil change, and to run diagnostics on the warning lights (there would be additional fees depending on what was actually wrong).  While I have enough to cover all of that in my savings, it would be a substantial blow to me at this point in time.  I live my life on a very carefully planned and maintained budget right now, and that is a large, unplanned expense.  I asked very specific questions about his list of problems: 1) what is the expected life span of the battery (i.e. will it die tomorrow, or will it go for another 2-4 weeks)? 2) what does the brake switch do? 3) what problems absolutely need to be corrected today, and which ones can wait?  I even went so far as to ask if these parts I needed were special Honda parts, or if I could get, say, the battery somewhere else after I shopped around for a better price.

4.  Draw your bottom line.
I then informed the associate that I do not have a credit card, and that my budget for the day is $100.  I asked him to speak with the mechanics again to find out what was absolutely necessary to be safe in my car.  He was concerned that it would take a while longer.  I informed him that time was not important, but that money was important, and that I was willing to wait whatever time needed to find out which services I needed within my budget constraints.

5.  Be patient.
The associate was gone for quite some time, and came back to update me on the situation a handful of times.  My total wait time on the day was over 2 hrs, and the final result was an oil change and installation of a new battery.  I was told the other items weren’t critical and could, in fact, wait until the next time.  They reset one of the warning lights and took it for a test drive to ensure it didn’t come back on – for free.  Total spent today was around $150 – more than I had planned on, but far less than I was told in suggested repairs.

6.  Remember: YOU are in control.
Never lose sight of the fact that you are a paying customer who can (and will) go elsewhere if the associates in front of you aren’t meeting your needs.  As a retail manager, I know the importance of customer satisfaction and loyalty; those associates need your purchase, and they should do everything in their power to ensure you spend your money at their establishment.  Don’t be afraid of the word “no” – to hear it or to say it.  However, do be flexible enough to know when the associate in front of you has truly hit their bottom line.  And either that will be good enough, or it won’t – that is for you to decide (refer back to #1).  But chances are, you still win, because their bottom line is still going to be better than their first offer…and you have saved money.

Time to Trim

About two years ago, I went “public”, so-to-speak, about my financial difficulties.  I chose to share my story because I knew there had to be others out there just like me, only maybe too ashamed to say anything.  I also knew that I had survived my struggles through persistent navigation through the nearly impossible procedures of mortgage loan modification, bankruptcy, and credit card nonsense….but that not everyone would be so persistent, or even know where to begin.  I have been fortunate.  I was one of the lucky ones.

While I do not claim to know all there is to know about the hullabaloo and fine print of this financial crisis, I do feel that I have learned a great deal, and my learnings may help someone else get through their struggle.  In fact, I have already had a handful of people ask “how did you do it?” since I went public with my struggles.  Please know that each situation is unique, and ultimately you should consult with a legitimate credit/debt counseling service or attorney.  However, here are some tips for beginning to trim those things that are ultimately causing you to feel like you are drowning:

1.  Sit down and write out all expenses for every month, as well as your income for each month.
Be honest.  “Fluffing” numbers will only cheat you.  Once you have written down income and expenses, compare what you have listed with three months worth of checking account and credit card statements.  If you are like me, you may think that you have trimmed extras and are living on the bare minimum…but in reality, you are still overspending.  When I really looked into my bank statements, I was amazed at the amount I was spending on eating out and having social drinks with friends.  (Once you have your list, hold onto it, as you will need it later when you begin calling to negotiate rates and fees with credit cards, etc.) 

2.  Trim excesses. (And when you think you have, trim again.)
Stop eating out.  Turn off those premium cable channels.  Stop buying clothes just because they are on sale.  Stop going to movies.  And when you’ve done all of that, take a look again at those financial statements to see where else you can trim.  You will be amazed at the amount of money you’ve been flushing down the toilet on things that aren’t important in the grand scheme of things.  I’m talking hundreds of dollars spent on nonsense – there’s your car payment right there.

3.  Stop using credit cards – period.
Now, if you are like me, the thought of that sends chills down your spine and sends you into panic mode.  But you just have to do it – cold turkey.  Stop using them TODAY, or you will never end this vicious cycle.

4.  Call your credit card companies.
Set aside a couple of hours, because this step will be a process all by itself.  Grab that list that we created in #1, call each company one-by-one, and explain that you are experiencing financial hardship due to _____________ (pick your reason: loss of job, underemployment, pay cut, medical bills – whatever it was that was the straw to break your proverbial back).  Most companies will work with you to lower your rate and put you on a fixed (and many times, lower) payment each month.  However, be prepared that, in order to do so, they will end your spending privileges (again, I refer you back up to #3).  In some cases, your privileges are only revoked temporarily while you are on the payment plan, and once you have fulfilled the terms of the payment plan and/or get back on your feet, they will extend those privileges once again.  Other companies will close the account altogether.  In the latter case, ignore those who tell you this will hurt your credit.  In the long run, you will be better off that you are paying down a debt instead of incurring more.  The benefits you will reap from paying it down will far outweigh any temporary bumps to your credit score.

5.  Call your utility companies and anyone else to whom you pay money each month.
Believe it or not, even your phone and cable companies may have a special payment plan that they can put you on for a limited time while you are working through your financial difficulties – especially if you threaten to leave or turn off the service altogether.  Call them, explain your financial hardship, and see how they may be willing to work with you.  
By the time I talked to all of my credit card and utility companies, I had trimmed another $100-$150 off of my expenses – there’s your electric bill.  Add to that the “extras” of eating out, socializing with friends, and impulse shopping, and I found about $500 to put towards things that were much more important, such as house and car payments, gas, and groceries.  The fact that you have downsized your expenses will counterbalance the fact that you are no longer using your credit cards, especially when most of what you were probably using the credit cards on has now been trimmed from your life.

No one said this process would be easy, but I promise the hard work pays off.  You will have to make sacrifices for a little while, but the dedication and diligence will provide you with more breathing room and more control over your finances (and in the grand scheme, more control over your LIFE).  

Once going through this process of trimming, I found that – even though I was making nearly half the salary I had been making before losing my job in the downfall of the economy – I felt like I had more.  For the first time in my life, I was following a true budget – and it made all the difference in the world between drowning and living.  And now, I am WINNING MY LIFE!

Take Action with a SMART Action Plan

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A COPY OF THE “TAKE ACTION” WORKSHEET

During a recent coaching session, a client told me that she feels she is being called to help people.  She was reading and soaking up information like a sponge, but really had no direction or focus for how she was going to help people.  During our session, I uncovered that she is passionate about growing herbs and herbal healing.  As she talked about this passion, her eyes lit up, and she was very animated and excited as she went on to tell me that a great grandmother had actually been known in her community as a natural and herbal healing specialist.  By the time we finished her session, we had mapped out an action plan that had specific focus, a time frame to complete a knowledge path for said focus, and her next steps for getting involved in community groups with this focus.

The hardest part of reaching your goals is getting started.  People are often so overwhelmed with the idea of the process that they often just never start.  In order to be successful with any action plan – business or personal – your plan must be S.M.A.R.T. :

S – Specific
M – Measureable
A – Achieveable/Actionable
R – Revise for Relevance
T – Timely

SPECIFIC
A goal must be specific in order to measure success.  If you just say, “I want to lose weight”, your expectation is so broad that you will never know if you reached the finish line.  However, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds, you can set up smaller goals along the way until you reach the 20 pounds.  Now you have focus to your goal and can ultimately measure success.  In the example above, my client started out wanting to “help people”, but by the time we were finished with her session, she had focused her passion into a specific goal of helping others learn about herbal healing.

MEASUREABLE
How will you measure success of your goal?  You should be able to break down your goal into smaller steps along the way by which you can measure continuous achievement.  If your goal is to lose 20 pounds, you may decide that you are going to work for losing one pound per week until that goal is achieved.  In the case of my client, we set some milestones for knowledge of her focus area: attending workshops, going to community classes, and ultimately getting a nationally-recognized certification.

ATTAINABLE/ACTIONABLE
Have you made your goal specific and measureable enough to actually carry it out?  Do you have the resources, including both skill and will, to achieve the goal?  Some people miss the first two steps, and by doing so, set themselves up for failure before they’ve even begun.  Any goal worth achieving is worth having a plan to achieve that goal.  You can’t just jump into it and think you are going to get somewhere.  Take the time to map it out – you will thank yourself later.  Without deciding first that you will strive to lose “x” amount of weight per week by “ABC” actions, you will never reach that 20-pound mark for weight loss.  In the case of my client wanting to help others, she had no end result for which she was working and probably would have floundered about trying to find her place in this world of helping/healing.  By sitting down and talking through the steps of a SMART Action Plan, we were able to give her measureable and achieveable pieces for which to strive and by which to measure success once completed.

REVISE FOR RELEVANCE
You may find along your journey a new direction or insight that takes you on a different path than originally planned – and THAT IS OK.  It doesn’t mean you have failed the original goal.  It just means that the original goal is no longer relevant to where you are at this point in your life.  How many people do you know that are still working in the career field of their college major ten or fifteen years later?  My guess is not many.  We all go to college with one passion or idea of where we want to go in life, but as we experience all that life has to offer, we can often be pulled in another direction.  Such is the case with any goal, so stay open and flexible so that you can revise your plan along the way to stay relevant.  My client may find along her journey to becoming a specialist on herbal healing that she has another passion that is even stronger than her one for herbal healing – and that is OK.  She will just need to revise her plan a little to accommodate the new focus in her life.

TIMELY
Without a time-bound point of completion, how will you ever know if you’ve crossed the finish line?  Choose a realistic time frame by which you would like to complete your goal, which is ultimately just another aspect of measurement.  By choosing a time frame, you are holding yourself accountable to actually getting the goal completed – even if you realize the time frame you have set for yourself needs to be revised along the way (in either direction – shorter or longer).  Choose a time that is relatively soon so that you will have a sense of urgency and motivation to actually get the job done, but that is far enough away that it gives you a realistic time frame for completion.  You will not lose 20 pounds safely in one month, but maybe you can lose 20 pounds in 3-5 months.  Again, stay open and flexible to revise your time along the way if need be, and don’t consider yourself a failure if it looks like it might take a little longer than originally planned.  As long as you are making progress in the right direction, you are successful.

I have a worksheet that I use with my clients in our initial consultation that walks them through a SMART Action Plan.  This “Take Action” worksheet aids in taking a large, non-specific goal that may seem overwhelming to tackle and breaks it down into a Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely Action Plan.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A COPY OF THE “TAKE ACTION” WORKSHEET

The Flood

I was recently reminded of a fable/joke involving a man in a flood…

Once upon a time, a man was trapped in a flood. In an effort to be rescued, he climed to his rooftop and began praying for the Lord to save him. Along comes a boat, and the people on the boat cry, “Jump in! We’re heading for shore!” The man replies, “No thanks – I’m waiting for the Lord to save me!” The boat leaves. A few minutes later, a helicopter comes by and throws down a ladder. “Climb in,” they shout. The man replies, “That’s OK – I’m waiting for the Lord to save me.” The helicopter flies away. The man eventually drowns, and when he gets to heaven, he says to the Lord, “What happened? I was your faithful servant and I prayed for you to save me!?” The Lord replies, “I sent a boat and a helicopter – what more did you want?”


The point of the story is that sometimes we stand in our own way. The Lord might be trying to throw us a lifeline, but because it’s not in the dramatic, miraculous way that we envision, we let the opportunity pass us by.

I was reminded of this story recently when I was faced with a crossroads in my career path. To quickly fill you in on the backstory, I left my former position as a regional manager with a local chain of fitness centers in September. I hadn’t been happy for several months, and when the economy went sour and I no longer agreed with their principles (or lack thereof), our relationship quickly ended. Given that the economy had depleted the job market substantially, I went back to work with a retail chain for which I had worked previously as a seasonal associate (I knew they were hiring for the Holidays). As luck would have it, within two weeks of being there as a seasonal associate, an Assistant Manager position became available, and I was asked to step in.

I very much enjoyed my position, as well as the team, and I was very thankful to have such a great job – if only through the Holidays. However, my pride was slightly hurt at having to go back to retail (something I left behind years ago as I began to climb the “Corporate ladder”), and my selfish side was inconvenienced by the retail schedule (working weekends, some holidays, late nights, etc). So I continued to search for other opportunities – managerial positions in a “normal” office environment. I even accepted another position with another company – one that promised all the things I was looking for. Meanwhile, my store manager at the retail chain began networking on my behalf within the company, in hopes of finding a position that might keep me with the company.

I hated the new position with the new company, and I realized very quickly that the promises made to me were empty if not outright lies. As I confided my frustrations with my store manager, she began to inform me of upcoming openings and opportunities within the company that would not only provide me with the personal career growth I was seeking, but also with the financial comfort I needed. Once again, my selfish side took over, and I actually considered staying with the awful new position just to have the Mon-Fri schedule I desired versus a position with a company I loved and would, in the long run, provide better stability and growth.

And that’s when I was reminded of the story of the man in the flood. Here I was, praying every night that the Lord would take care of me and provide me with a job that would pay my bills and that I would enjoy…and yet, when I was offered those opportunities, I dismissed them because I was waiting for some dramatic miracle. And then I had a WIZARD OF OZ moment where I realized that I didn’t need to look any further than my own backyard to find happiness.

So I accepted a terrific growth opportunity with this retail chain. And once I let the decision sink in and paperwork and the like made the decision final, I immediately felt a sense of peace. I knew now that that is where the Lord intended for me to be, and now that I had gotten out of my own way and surrendered to the Lord’s Will, I could see the possibilities that were awaiting me….

So get out of your own way, people, and listen to your gut (which often is the Lord trying to tell you something). And if you follow His Will, everything else will work itself out.

Have Faith!

Just “Start”

Like 99% of the American population, I’m sure you’ve got a long mental “to do” list when it comes to improving your life.

“I need to get more organized.”

“I need to start exercising.”

“I need to start eating healthier.”

“I need to start spending more time with my family.”

And the list goes on…..

The problem is that we TALK about these things ALL THE TIME.  We always have that mental list of things we “need to do”- and yet, we’re not getting it done.

For most, it’s because it seems like SO MUCH that even just the THOUGHT of doing makes us tired.  You ever watch “Hoarders” and think “How in the world did these people get to this point?”  The truth is, it wasn’t what they DID, it’s what they DIDN’T do.  If you are a regular watcher, like I am, you know that most of these people had some life situation that was sort of the pivotal point – and things went downhill from there.  A loved one died, the person lost his/her job, a divorce occurred – SOMETHING happened that caused that person to shut down, and he/she just stopped doing.  The “stuff” he/she has accumulated  – as crazy as it sounds – was a comfort. When something very dear to you is ripped away, you try to hold onto anything – and everything – you can, because that’s the only thing you CAN control.

Fortunately, most of us are not in the “hoarders” category, but we still feel like we live in a world of chaos.  We feel overwhelmed by trying to balance work and home, and somehow we’ve let things get away from us – little by little – until the “to do” list has become a mile long.  But the mere thought of even attempting to tackle that list seems too much to wrap our minds around, and so we just DON’T DO.

You know that old phrase “one step at a time”?  As crazy as it sounds, that is honestly all it takes – ONE STEP.  Pick a place – any place – and just START.  I know you’re probably sitting there saying “that’s easier said than done”.  But honestly, it’s not as hard as you think it is.  Maybe today you choose that pile of mail that’s been piling up on the table.  Chances are half of it need to be thrown out, but you just haven’t taken the time to do so.  Maybe tomorrow you choose the coffee table.  I know you think that one thing can’t make that much of a difference, but amazingly, it does. It adds up over time, and after a couple of weeks, maybe that entire living room is done…and you can move on to the next room.

I didn’t say it would be easy.  You will have to muster up courage, patience, and a little focus and determination.  But just like starting a new exercise routine, it will become easier as time goes on – and you will be amazed at the results you are starting to see.  I think of clutter like the “fat” of your house – you got a little lazy and complacent and your house put on a few pounds!  But ignoring those pounds won’t make them go away; they will only continue to accrue if you don’t take action.

So as you try to decide where to start on your list of things to improve in your life, don’t get overwhelmed with how many things you need to work on.  Just pick ONE.  My suggestion is pick the ONE thing that has the greatest effect on your life right now, and start making daily time for that one thing everyday.  Maybe you choose to start exercising – so make 20 minutes everyday to start walking.  Maybe you choose to start eating healthy, but before you overhaul your entire kitchen, just choose one area to focus on – such as taking a multivitamin, cutting down on your potato chip habit, or eating one fruit a day more than what you currently eat (which, sadly, might mean eating ONE fruit a day for many people – but again, it’s a start).  The bottom line is: JUST START.  And take it one step at a time.