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Reflections & Realignment – Happy New Year!

Happy-Green-New-YearThis time of year is always a favorite around here, not just for the festivities and joy that always seem to accompany the holiday season but also for the precious extra time spent with family and friends, relaxing, catching up and just enjoying each others’ company.

The holidays offer a much-needed break from our regular routines, which in turn always bring a fresh, new perspective and the opportunity for reflection and realignment of values and priorities.  I’m always reminded of what is most important to me because of all the positive feelings and happiness this time of year brings. 

Values & Priorities

It’s far too easy to get off-track and caught up in this world of distraction and pressure.  In an effort to try to ‘do it all’ or to please others or to ‘do the right thing’ or sometimes without even realizing, many of us add items to our daily workload that really aren’t in alignment with what we value.  Moreover, we add without subtracting or adjusting to help keep our lives in a healthy balance, both physically and emotionally, at work and at home.  

Have you ever had your nose so closely to the grindstone that when you finally look up you wonder, How on earth did I end up here?!

Since we can only do so much, it’s important that what we choose to do is aligned with what we truly value.

Reflection is a powerful tool.  Taking time to think about what is and is not serving you well is the first step to designing and living your best life.  That’s YOUR best life.  Not the Jones’, not what your mother or me or some guru or anyone else thinks is best for you.  If you take nothing else from this post, remember that your life does not have to be patterned in a certain way or resemble anyone else’s life.  

Sometimes we think we want or need certain things like a particular job or car or house because it’s expected or it’s the ‘next step’ on the road to success.  Unfortunately, that’s the kind of thinking that can lead us into a vicious cycle of unnecessary consumerism and debt and general unhappiness.  Success can be measured in many ways but I believe it ultimately comes down not to how much stuff a person has, but to simply being happy.  

In a previous article, I talked about living and spending in accordance with personal values and priorities.  Spending is an important part of living here in North America.  How we choose to spend our time and our hard-earned dollars has a direct impact on our quality of life and overall happiness.  Reflecting on personal choices and making sure that our actions and spending of time and money is in alignment with personal values and priorities is, I believe, the key.

Reflect & Realign

Take some time this holiday season to really think about what you truly value:  Education?  Travel?  Independence?  Work?  Family?  Health?  Examine what each one means to you and think about its current place in your life.  Be honest with yourself and try not to think about what is ‘right’ or expected; just focus on what is important to you.

Reflect on those values and on your top priorities.  How do they factor in to your life today?  Do your current goals reflect what is truly important to you?   Does your current routine reflect your highest priorities?  If you value time with family but are spending all your time at work, then your actions and choices may not be in alignment with your values.  Where might you need to make some adjustments?  

Don’t stress if you feel your life is a little ‘out of whack’ and certainly don’t compare yourself to anyone else!  Realigning your choices with your values and priorities may take some time depending on how long it’s been since you last reflected and how far off track you may have wandered.  Simply identify what needs to be adjusted, make the changes you can now and then incorporate the rest into your list of goals for 2013.

“No matter how long you are traveling down the wrong road, when you figure it out, turn around.” ~ Turkish proverb

Holidays, breaks and vacations allow us to take a step back from our everyday projects and challenges, and to really see the big picture of our life.  Enjoy this special time of year and make sure you are spending your time and money on the things that make you truly happy!

 

699-happy-new-year

 

 

 

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Women & Business: Too Nice to be Successful or Too Successful to be Nice?

I’ve read and heard a lot about women and success lately, most recently in the form of a TED video by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.  She talks about the lack of women in business leadership, and suggests that women could be making better headway in the corporate arena if they change some key behaviors and make a concerted effort to get in the game.  I agree, but think it might go even deeper than that.

The statistics are staggering and still pretty pathetic when it comes to the number of women in power and leadership roles, in executive and corporate positions, salary discrepancies and the like.  It’s easy to blame the ‘glass ceiling’ and the ‘old boys club’ but when it comes right down to it, it’s possible that we women might just be resisting our own corporate success.

Women should be shattering that ceiling and crashing those clubs.  In fact, a post on Daily Worth cites a 2010 economic committee report which found that companies with women promoted to senior positions consistently outperform their competition.  It goes on to highlight the proven success in the corporate arena of collaboration, team-building and mentoring, skills that women naturally tend to use and excel at.  We should be leading the C-suite charge and taking the business world by storm.  Instead, we seem to be consistently undermining our own efforts and thwarting our own potential success at every juncture.

Sandberg suggests that women tend to take themselves out of the game when it comes to business advancement and promotion.  She notes some disturbing patterns and trends and then raises some great questions:  Why don’t women pursue goals as actively as their male counterparts?  Why do we tend to defer to spouses when it comes to domestic situations?  Why do women often capitulate or back off in business settings?  Are we being ‘too nice’?

There are probably as many reasons for it as there are women.  After all, success is actually a very personal and subjective term.  Being successful means different things to different people.  However, one common denominator seems to be happiness in some form, and regardless of the amount of money you make or titles you earn or values you uphold, it’s pretty hard to be happy if you think that no one likes you!

Whether they choose to work inside or outside the home, women often seem to get the short end of the judgment stick, and unfortunately, we women are often the worst offenders when it comes to bashing our own.  Have you ever commented on or criticized the ‘soccer moms’ and ‘helicopter moms’ for not being ambitious enough, or the ‘working moms’ for not being involved enough, or complained that the ‘bitchy boss’ needs to get…a life?  Women need to support each other irrespective of priorities and choices instead of perpetuating negative and counterproductive stereotypes.

In business, successful men are typically seen as confident and assertive, whereas successful women are more often than not considered aggressive and cold-hearted.  The stereotype of the ‘Bitchy Boss’ stubbornly persists and can be found all around us – it’s in movies, magazines, photos, story lines, even in our conversations.  So why on earth would any girl or woman ever want to aspire to be ‘successful’ in business if it means being seen as cold and hard, shunned and resented by everyone around her? 

Historically, success in the business world has also represented sacrifice, most often at the expense of family and relationships.  As a woman, it is often considered selfish to actively pursue work-related goals, but ironically, men are seen as ‘go-getters’ and good providers.  Gasp, what kind of woman/mother would ever put her work or self ahead of the needs of her family?!  She might be successful but at what price?

Guilt can a pretty strong motivator, especially when it plays on our existing doubts or insecurities.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t experience a little self-doubt every now and then.  People tend to put others down to feel good about themselves and to rationalize their own choices.  It takes a very confident and self-assured woman to overcome that kind of guilt, ignore societal prejudice and judgment and feel secure in the knowledge that she is living according to her own values and priorities.   

As Sandberg suggests, maybe women need to be more assertive in pursing promotions, more confident in their abilities and in presenting their ideas, more diligent about sharing domestic responsibilities.  These are positive key behaviors that will serve us well no matter what we choose to do.  Maybe as a society we should judge a little less and accept a little more.

But maybe the apparent lack of progress with women and corporate success is not really about insecurity or refusing to step up to the table.  Maybe it’s a little more complicated than that.  Maybe it’s about rejecting the notion that a powerful, successful business woman must, by definition, also be a bitch.  Maybe it’s about an unwillingness to compromise priorities or to sacrifice family to fit some arbitrary definition of what it means to be successful.  Maybe women DO want it all and are no longer willing to accept less.

Maybe, just maybe, women are collectively rejecting an antiquated industrial corporate model and are refusing to do business in the manner that its always been done.  A recent analysis reports that the number of women-owned businesses has increased by 50% over the last decade and a half.  Company size and revenues have not increased but maybe that’s by choice and design.  Maybe it’s possible that progress via the corporate ladder has slowed because women have embraced the spirit of the Gen-Y Millennials and are actually in the process of redefining success and rewriting the rules to do business on our own terms.

Maybe women are realizing that we can have it all.  It just might look and feel a little different than what our grandmothers, mothers, aunts or even we ever imagined!

One thing is for sure though – it’s a lot easier and faster to succeed if you are the one writing the rules.  We do need strong, confident and capable women in corporate-level and Board positions.  Not to increase statistics or reflect equal representation or even to just show ’em all that women are just as able as men.  Women need to be an integral part of making the decisions and policies that shape the way business can be done and to redefine success.

Author Note:  Check out the TED video by Sheryl Sandberg and share your comments to let us know what you think we can do to help redefine the rules and roles of women leaders.

Pennies & Pounds ~ Making a Big Difference in a Small Way

My Grandad always used to say, “Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.”

He was obviously English and referring to the British monetary system but the concept is clear no matter which currency it’s applied to:   Little amounts saved can add up to a lot.  And that can make a big difference when it comes to meeting not just your financial goals but personal goals as well.

The inspiration for this post actually came in the form of a credit card statement ~ when I realized my interest rate had just TRIPLED for no apparent reason.

I never used to really understand or pay much attention to how the credit industry worked.  I never really felt I needed to because I almost always paid the entire balance during the grace period so I didn’t have to pay interest or late fees or over-limit penalties.  I also never used to ask questions.  I just assumed there was a good reason for the changes, that it was my fault, and that I, a lowly borrower, was powerless to do anything about it.  Remember The Golden Rule?

Well, not anymore.  I’ve taken a keen interest in everything credit-related over the last few years, especially with the Great Recession and as the new federal regulations started coming out.  I began tracking cards and rates, watching every statement like a hawk.  I now review and verify new charges, avoid pre-authorized bank or card charges wherever possible or set email alerts to follow up free trial periods so that I cancel on time if needed.  And I always, always, ALWAYS check the interest rates.  

Twice in the last two months I have noticed rate hikes and successfully called the credit card companies in an effort to get them to lower the interest rate.  Through this process I have learned that most credit accounts are set up on various automated systems.  One involves a periodic, random check that is based on an inquiry into your credit report.  Any kind of change to your credit (new card, job, even an error) can trigger a hike to a predetermined default interest rate, regardless of your past history with that card or company.  The new rate is applied immediately and without notice.

Another automated system involves the payment due date.  In the past, many companies would forgive a payment that posted a day or two after the due date.  Not so anymore.  Additional fees are typically set to apply immediately and are often accompanied by an automatic interest rate hike.  I realized this after making a payment through my bank website instead of the company website.  Because of the weekend, it delayed my payment beyond the due date and triggered an automatic rate hike.

As expected, the first response to both of my calls to request a rate reduction were negative.  It pays to be calm and persistent, though.  Fortunately, I have excellent payment history and was able to use that to my advantage.  After asking for manager review and assistance, I was able to successfully get both rates adjusted back down to their original levels (along with my blood pressure!)

The interest rate reduction was extremely important because I was carrying a balance on both of the cards at the time.  The tripling of the rate meant that my minimum monthly payment would more than DOUBLE from the original amount  and would have resulted in TRIPLE the amount of total interest paid for the year.

Remember, this is happening immediately and without notice.  More importantly, it is happening regardless of actual payment history.  It might have gone unnoticed and unchallenged had I not been in the habit of reviewing and tracking the charges and rates.

Obviously, these hikes would have affected my own overall cash flow.  But, in this global, interconnected world, that isn’t the end of the story.  It could also impact the financial situation and daily lives of several women in developing countries who have benefited from the micro-loans that I’ve been able to contribute to since I was introduced to Kiva, an incredible micro-finance organization.  The few extra dollars that I am able to save in interest can literally mean the difference between a child somewhere being able to attend school or not, or a family’s ability to put food on the table each week.

A few dollars saved here and there may not always seem like much or worth the trouble.  To some, it might even be looked at as penny-pinching or cheap or just plain anal-retentive.  To me, it’s about meeting financial and personal goals, without having to compromise one for the other.  Who knows?  Maybe Grandad was right about the pennies and pounds after all.  In the grand scheme of things, that little bit just might make all the difference in someone’s world.

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