Fixing My Finances

I feel frustrated with the financial road I’ve been on. It bothers me that my financial situation limits my freedom, flexibility, and opportunities. It makes me sick. My financial life slowly fell to ruins but now it’s time to dust myself off and rebuild.

I can place blame on a lot people and situations. It’s a waste of energy.  The responsibility rests on my shoulders. Ultimately, I’m the one who has the power to shape my future.  I can stay on this comfortable yet miserable trajectory or I can make decisions that get me back on track. I need to fix my finances so I can build a strong foundation for my dreams.

My mom and dad taught me well. They taught me how to save and invest for the future.  My mom encouraged me to save and invest my money. My dad always stressed savings and sacrifice. I spent long hours at the library absorbing personal finance books.  I did well in high school and my freshman year of college.  I loved that time at the library. I saved and invested a decent amount of money.  

However, this plan lack of balance.  I was living for tomorrow and not enjoying life today.  All the money I saved and invested went towards a future I may not see.  A lot can happen in fifty years.  I may not see that money. I need to live well in the short term while looking out for the long term.   Slowly, I lost my way.  I developed bad habits my friends had because I felt miserable. I began focusing too much on the now.

Chasing dreams that weren’t mine was another problem I encountered. I invested too much time and money on a dream that wasn’t mine. It took a toll on me mentally and spiritually.  I did things that my heart and gut told me I shouldn’t. Because of this foolish quest, I am overwhelmed with debt.  This puts me in a position where I can’t live the dream that I want to dream.  At least, I no longer carry the burden of someone else’s dream. 

So what do I do now?  How am I going to fix my finances? This is what I am doing over the next year.

  1. Dream big. Plan big. Small steps.  It’s important to know the long view and the strategy behind it while making tactical decisions along the way.
  2. Prioritize.  Focusing my energy on select goals will help me build momentum.
  3. Be Frugal and Thrifty. Make smart spending decisions that will maximize my limited resources.
  4. Increase My Income.  The more I earn in less time, the more resources I can use to repair this problem.
  5. Letting Go.  After learning from the past, it’s important to let go of it to invest energy into future.
  6. Simplifying. Simple goals and simple systems helps prevents me from getting overwhelmed. It’s easier to manage things and troubleshoot problems.
  7. Automation. Creating systems for repeatable tasks frees resources to concentrate on other problems.

I envision myself out of student loan and consumer debt by the end of 2017 IF I stay the course and focus. Being free of debt will open the door to almost endless possibilities.  It will give my heart free reign to go where it desires.

If you are financially free, what would you do and where would you go with it?

A Year and A Summer

She’s been calling me.  It’s time for me to answer and be closer to her.  I didn’t know what to say. Now that part of me wants to leave, the words and actions are finally coming to me.  I look back and wish I spent more time to be involved with her more intimately.  I know how amazing she is and how much more amazing she could be.  Unfortunately, I’ve been distracted by so many things in my life.  I didn’t appreciate her the way I should have. Before I venture beyond the Midwest in a full time capacity, I want to spend a year and a summer spending time in the Midwest.

A year and a summer in Chicago and the Midwest will be good for me.  It gives me more time to find a clear direction of travel.  I know where I want to go but how will I get there.  I hope spending the time to prepare will help me save time and energy to get me where I want to go effectively. I can invest my resources on my personal development. There are many skills I need to develop and nurture.  I want to improve my mind and body for a lifetime of adventure.  I can go further and do more if I am physically and mentally resilient.  I provides a chance to follow my heart in Chicago. I never had the opportunity to follow my heart.  The things I wanted to do wasn’t practical or the proper way of doing things to others.  My sense of duty to my parents pushed me farther and farther away from my heart and what I loved.

There are four things I want to do while I am in the Chicago area.  

  1. Exploring Deeply and Intimately. I want to explore the Chicago area and Midwest deeply and intimately. There are so many amazing things to see and experience here.  I need to appreciate what is around me.  Precious gems fill the midwest. However, people don’t see or recognize them..  
  2. Personal Development. I want to invest time to improve my finances, mind, body, and skillset. It will give me more flexibility and freedom. This will increase opportunities available to me.
  3. In Service to Others. Finally, I want to be in service to others. There is something inside that moves me to improve the world around me.  It’s time to rise up and invest time.. I want to volunteer time preserving and restoring the nature around the Chicago area.  I want to part of the solution that eliminates socioeconomic inequalities. She needs me right now and  I want her.  I love Chicagoland.  I love the people.  

I spent the first summer working on my personal development and dreaming of a great year.  I started working on my mind and body. I started planning the remaining four seasons in the Midwest. The future looks bright. I’m excited and looking forward to becoming more intimate with Chicagoland and the rest of the Midwest.

Time to Get Healthy

I finally made the commitment to take the daily action to improve my health. No, it wasn’t one of those BS promises we make to ourselves and never take action on. Being healthy is something I need to do for a life well lived. I need to build a body that will allow me to do everything I want to do in my life. I want to build a healthy body that will allow me to live a life of love, service, and adventure. Getting health will improve my energy, make me feel better, allows me to be capable of doing more physical things and increases my chances to lives longer.

As a late bloomer, I need more time to make my mark on the world. I missed a lot of time and experiences because I had to deal with internal battles. I struggled and overcame it. The struggle provided clarity, helped me identify my priorities, and added detail to my vision. Living healthier will reduce my risk for many diseases associated with lack of exercise and obesity. It gives me a chance to live longer and use the gifts I gained while I was struggling in that darkness.

Leading a healthy lifestyle will allow me to live a lifetime of love, stewardship, and adventure. Losing weight and gaining strength are byproducts of living a healthy lifestyle. These byproducts will help me eliminate an excuse not to do something. I can no longer say I’m out of shape, I’m not strong enough, or not capable. These excuses will melt away as I get healthier. I will have the endurance to achieve what needs to get done. I’ll have strength to get it done. I’ll possess the energy and mindset help me help others. My future adventures and trips will not be suffer-fests like the past.

Losing weight, eating better, and getting physically stronger will help me build my mind and spirit. Studies are finding that exercise help physically change and improve the brain. Exercise improves mental health. Eating the right foods provides the building blocks for a healthy brain. The brain has the capacity to control what you can do physically. It affects how you perceive the world. Losing weight, eating better, and getting physically stronger will help me be focused and perform mental exercises better. It will also improve my mood and confidence. It allows me to think more clearly. I can make better and bolder decisions. It will also begin this positive feedback loop where physical exercise improves my mind, my mind allows my body to get stronger, and my body improves my mind.

Since making the commitment, I’ve lost 11.8 pounds and two inches from my waist. How did I do it? It took consistency, patience, and persistence. I made small lifestyle changes so I didn’t overwhelm myself by doing too much. The biggest change was making the commitment and taking actions. A decision isn’t worth much unless it is acted upon.

I decided it is time to get healthy and I finally made the commitment to do something it. Have you made the commitment to get healthy and fit? What actions have you done to take your first step forward?

A Year in Review: 2015 – 2016

Around my birthday, I take time to reflect on the past year and my life so I can make changes to make the next year better.

I spent the past year reflecting, reconnecting, and learning. I needed to step back and stop the trajectory of my life. I felt tired and broken. My restless spirit yearned for me to be and do more. I wasn’t honoring this gift of life I was given. I didn’t feel fulfilled. Something was aching inside of me to do something. It wasn’t the life I wanted to live. I needed to do something. I needed to reacquaint myself and do something.

I decided to stand still. I invested the time to reflect and learn. I forgot who I was and who I wanted to be. Too many well meaning people put their hopes and dreams on me. They were dreams that I did not want. So I looked inward. I needed time to myself so I can look at the rock that I want to sculpt and create an idea of who I am supposed to be. I needed to spend time with the stone that I wanted sculpt the person I am and who I wanted to be.

Slowly, I stripped away the layers added every moment of my life that made me feel unrecognizable to myself. I unloaded the baggage that was tossed on my shoulders. I began feeling like myself. My original dream is clearer. I remember that beautiful plan I had for myself.

I read books and attended seminars. I flooded my mind with various ideas, thoughts, and images to improve my mindset. I spent a lot of time carefully restoring parts of me that were missing. I started to take action and do the things I wanted that put it off in the past. Last summer, I started taking lessons in an activity that I’ve always wanted to do. I went on a modified solo road trip I’ve always wanted to do. I gained knowledge about myself and acquired the tools that I needed.

I embraced who I am. I learned to change my perception of things and my perspective. I began embracing who I am now and reframed the past. This is where I am supposed to be. I currently have all the tools I need to be successful at this moment in my life. All I have to do now is focus energy and prioritize to create and build momentum so things can grow automatically.

There isn’t much I want to change. I wish I filled my time with more life than squandering it into the abyss. I wished I had the courage and confidence to go after what I want and need. I’m still a work in progress. It was a great year. I did more last year than previous years to live an amazing life. I walked up to the edge of my comfort zone and looked over to see what’s on the other side. I want to push against the borders of my comfort zone and expand it.

Although I want to travel more, I’ve decided to stay closer to the Chicagoland to focus on a few amazing things that will improve my life. I learned a lot in the past year. This is the year to build a strong foundation for an amazing and beautiful life.

There are three goals I want to focus on this year.

  • Build a body for a lifetime of love, service, and adventure.
  • Increase my income by creating a business around my interests and skills.
  • Share what I’ve learned to my friends and family so they can craft a beautiful life.

I am focusing on my physical health because I want be more physically capable to do more. Addressing my health enables me to control some of the variables that affect the length of my life. There are things out of my control but there are things in my life I can do to prevent early death. I’ll feel better and think clearer. I can do and achieve more in less time. I am very sensitive to how little time we have. We have to make the most of it and use it well.

Certain dreams require certain resources and I need to increase my income to achieve some of my goals. Money can’t buy many things but I does open up opportunities and options. It’s just another tool to use as long as I respect it and treat it as just a tool. I have many options to increase my income.

Finally, I want my friends, family, and people I reach to be successful and happy. Life’s too short to be miserable. Happiness and success is infectious. I want more of that around me.

Taking the time to reflect, reconnect, and learn about myself transformed my life. I learned so much about myself that I’m ready to build an amazingly beautiful life. Sometimes we need to pause so we make large strides.

Travel Internationally by Staying Home

Exploring Chicagoland and the Midwest

We don’t have to travel to distant lands to find uniquely amazing things to experience and discover. We just don’t realize how beautiful our surroundings are and the people in it. Your hometown is a foreign land to someone else. The culture, environment, and experiences are different that their norm.  Unfortunately, we undervalue what’s around us and dream of traveling to other countries and experiencing new cultures around the world all the while we haven’t appreciated and immersed ourselves in things so close to us. During this year of metamorphosis, I’ll be exploring closer to base camp and investing my time in the Chicago area and Midwest.

A lot of us get caught up in the seemingly endless busyness of life and we forget to stop for a minute to appreciate what we have. I lived my entire life in the Chicago area but haven’t spent much time with her.  I had a lot of excuses. I had to go to work.  I needed to finish something for school. I couldn’t find someone to go with me.  I always said to myself, “Another time.  The timing is just not right. I’ve got other things more important to do. I don’t have the resources.”

The timing is never right because I never made more time to spend exploring Chicagoland and the Midwest.  I didn’t take the time set aside the resources to do the things I wanted to do. I didn’t explore because money is always tight and I thought I needed to save for retirement.  I was being penny wise and pound foolish with my time, money, and energy.  I didn’t have a quality day or weekend of recovery.  Instead of feeding my brain with experiences it needs to thrive, I allowed it to become frustratingly lethargic. I saved money that would in theory gives me the luxury of working less in the future. I became slow and less productive.  I spend more time completing things. I can’t wait for people anymore.  I deferred too many experiences because I didn’t have a buddy to explore with. Life is so short and fragile.  I can’t wait anymore.

There’s so much to see, experience, and do in Chicagoland and the Midwest!

Natural wonders abound. Chicago and Milwaukee’s front yard meets with an inland freshwater sea.  Four National Lakeshores (Apostle Islands, Indiana Dunes, Pictured Rocks, and Sleeping Bear Dunes) line Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Canyons cut from rock due to years of erosion is found at Starved Rock, Matthiesen State Park, and Camp Sagawau. Debris left by ancient glaciers leaves its mark with rolling moraines and kettles scattered in Wisconsin.  Remnant and restored prairie and forests witness the changes in history and are testaments to human’s ability to heal the earth.  There are a large number of things to do in these natural spaces such as hiking, cycling, cross country skiing, paddling, and ice climbing.

The diversity of cultures fill the area. I can travel to Thailand, China, India, Pakistan, Mexico, Poland, Greece, Africa, and Korea in one week by visiting the many ethnic enclaves in Chicago. I can taste their food, hear their accents, and experience their culture.  Within a two mile walk of base camp, I have my choice of Pakistani, Indian, Korean, Mexican, Polish, Middle Eastern, and American food.  The church I grew up in has a wide spectrum of skin tones and ethnicities. I am truly blessed to be living in an area with so much diversity.

Outside of Chicagoland, there are other cultures to experiences.  Life in Chicagoland (and other urban areas in the Midwest) is different than rural Illinois. Iowa has amazing people hosting their signature event, RAGBRAI. Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota show off their European heritage in their food and events like the American Birkebeiner.

While I prepare for the next leg of my journey in life, I am spending more time with the region that raised me.  She formed who I am despite not actively spending time with her. She shaped the goodness in my heart.  Why do I think of exploring other countries and cultures when I have haven’t built a deeper relationship with the Midwest? This year I’m wrapping my arms around her, hold her, and give her a warm embrace just like the lake and the skyline gave me a warm embrace for so many years.

Everyone’s home is special but we under appreciate it.  We dream of exploring distant lands yet we don’t spend the time to explore what we have at hand. Instead, let us appreciate what we have around us and see how beautiful it is by making time to explore it.   Even at home, we can have an adventure, learn something new about ourselves and the world, and find a new perspective.

What’s unique and beautiful about the area you live in? What would you showcase to an international visitor or someone outside of your region? If I visited you, what would you take and show me to get a taste of your life? Leave a comment below to let me know!

2016: A Year of Transition and Transformation

2016: A Year of Transition and Transformation

 

I neared the end of that section of the journey I’ve been in for so many years. I rend the layers that hid my authentic self. I sought to reclaim the pieces of me that I lost over the years.  I don’t know which road I need to take on the next leg of my journey and what it will present to me. I want to be prepared for any trial, struggle, and opportunity. I am using this year transition into the next leg of the journey and transformation and transform myself into the person I want and need to be. This is year will be my version of the Valley Forge winter encampment.

The winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, USA transformed a rag-tag group of volunteer colonial soldiers into an effective force during the American Revolution. They came together and bonded as one group, and learned essential skills from Prussian (now German) immigrant Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.

I am reflecting on the previous segment of my life’s journey.  There’s a reason why I had to struggle in the darkness all those years.  I seek to appreciate it for what it is and not look at it with frustration and regret.  It is a journey I had to take.  It formed me like a sculptor roughing out the stone.  It’s a journey of understanding and discovery what’s beneath.   The idea of who I am exists but it is deep within many layers.

There are days I wish I didn’t go down this path but it was necessary. People I met along the way seem to be fully formed early in their life and did the things I wanted to do. Instead of going out in the world.  I had to go within myself.  It gives me a unique perspective on life.  I listen more than I speak. I am more patient. I believe I am more understanding. The road I took strengthened my faith in the good in this world. I am more comfortable in performing acts of love and charity without the judgement or  admonishment of others. It was a necessary journey to form me into who I ought to be.

It’s time for me to dream and be inspired again. I haven’t dreamed beautiful new dreams in a long time. However, a gift I received in the darkness was learning the essence of my dreams.  The outward physical parts of my dream can change but the values will be the same.  It’s time to create beautiful big dreams that has the magic that stirs the soul.

To put those dreams into action, it is necessary to transform myself into the person I want and need to be, my authentic self. There are skills that I need to sharpen. Some skills need to be acquired through learning and practice.  I hope these newly developed skills will make the next section of the journey easier to navigate.

I am transforming my body to be stronger and more capable.  I want to live longer and better. As a late bloomer, I need to create more time to make the positive impact I want in this world. The last I don’t know what is ahead.  There are a lot of variables in play in our world. I want to be prepared for anything.  My body might have to fight off sickness.  I want to be able to get myself in and out of trouble. I want to get through or around any obstacle. Who knows, I might want to climb mountains and sail the roughest seas to reach that special someone.

As I get closer to the end of this one year period, I’ll be transitioning into the next leg of the journey. I’ll be investing more time testing and fine tuning my skills, mind, and body.  I’m really excited to see the finished product at the end of the period.

How’s your journey been?  What things would you like to learn, create, or build to make your journey better?  I’d love to hear from you!  Leave your comments below.

–Mark–

PS – Are you wondering why I have image of a carrot instead of Valley Forge? I find it fascinating that the carrot can grow back after having it’s leaves and most of its root taken away.  I think it’s a great symbol of what I’m trying to accomplish this year.

 

Thank You 2015

ThankYou2015_Website3Thank you 2015.  You were a great year. You were the first time in a long time where I was my real self. I was able to be myself for myself.  I didn’t do things for other people’s dreams. I did things because it is who I am not what others want me to be.  I began stripping  away the layers varnish that dulled the brightness, color, and texture in my life. I reconnected with parts of me that I thought I had lost. I challenged myself to do something I’ve always wanted to do.  The year two thousand fifteen was the year I started trusting my heart and spirit.

I stripped back the layers of paint and lacquer added every year by various people and groups in my life. It has been a slow process but last year was the first time I saw the beauty beneath.  I lost it a number of years ago. Although I recognized it, it seemed foreign to me.

It felt uncomfortable looking into his eyes but I kept stripped away the layers.  I found pieces of a dream buried inside his eyes.  My hands sweat with excitement.  I couldn’t remember the last time an idea excite me so much. I wanted to hurry the process to see what’s underneath but I reminded myself to be patient. Extracting something so delicate and beautiful takes love and time.

My parents saw me walk up to the stage at commencement.  I don’t have to go to school for someone else’s hopes and dreams. I can finally go back to school for myself. The burden has been lifted. I can learn to learn. I can do it for the love of learning.  I remember the times in high school when I walked through the stacks at the public library and immerse myself in a book to learn about history, finance, economics, and art. I loved learning. I miss that feeling.

Instead of learning from books and about the outside world, I focused learning about myself and reconnecting with a person I barely know anymore. I had to explore inwardly after battling the darkness for so many years. I wanted to do things I couldn’t do earlier in my life.  I began taking dance lessons because I’ve been curious about it. I took a road trip out west.  I learned a lot about myself and how other people affect my life.

The road trip ended up not being the trip that I originally envisioned.  However, it was the road trip I needed to take.  My original plan was to do a road trip from New York to San Francisco via the Lincoln Highway.  My plans changed the closer my departure time came. I trusted my heart and changed my plans.

I headed to the Pacific Northwest. It was a great trip, and my only two regrets were minor.  First, I wish I gave myself more time and resources to roam.  Second, I wish I had more space to help fellow travelers. The road trip stripped away the clutter for a brief time to reveal how my life should feel. There was no external influences second guessing my judgement or gut instinct.  There were ups and downs during the trip but I felt my best self.

I challenged myself to do something I wanted to do when I was a kid.  I wanted learn how to dance. Years ago I saw ballroom dancing on PBS. I found it to be intriguing. The movement of the human body could be beautiful outside of sports.  The guys look pretty badass making their dance partners look good. So… I started taking dance lessons.

I didn’t know if it’s something I’ll like.  How can I know unless I try it? It’s a low risk affair. Ten lessons gave me a feel for it. After these basic lessons, I learned something useful so I can survive a wedding.  I ended up  enjoying the struggles of learning how to dance. Thankfully, I had a good private instructor. I probably would have let go of the idea if I didn’t get paired with her. Besides exercise my mind and body, dancing reconnected with music and art.

I lost my connection with art years ago. Hearing and moving to music rekindled my interest. I’m seeking out new types of music. I listen to past and current musicians.  I’m beginning to wonder around appreciating the art created all around me. I look forward to the day when I start sketching and drawing again. I’m excited to work with my hands again.

As the year approached it’s terminus, I began to see a clearer image of who I am and where I am to go emerge. I finally neared the end of a chapter I hoped to finish many years. I started setting myself up for 2016.  Last year was a year of stripping away what was un-necessary and discovering what’s underneath.  What is in store for 2016? It’s going to be something amazing.