Sunday, January 17, 2016

Don't Vote for a $15 Wage - Earn It

I am always a little shocked and appalled when I watch politicians wave around some economic policy that sounds good on the surface as long as you don't consider the implications like it's the silver bullet that is going to fix a crisis that has actually been improved within a historical context.  So naturally, I had a gut check reaction when I heard that all three of the Democratic nominees were blindly supportive of this $15 minimum wage. 

Free market economists argue that the ideal minimum wage is $0, and that the market should be free to determine what the appropriate wage is based on supply and demand of labor.  Maybe that is extreme, assuming that some people would not fight hard enough for a wage they deserve, and that large employers may take advantage of desperate underprivileged populations.  But the opposite of no minimum wage has even more dire consequences.  Corrupt employers already pay below minimum wage under the table, so raising the 
minimum wage to impossibly high levels for unskilled workers would only
lead to more undocumented workers and a black market for labor.  In addition, automation of low-skilled jobs is only kept at bay by the cost, but again, increasing the minimum wage to a level that is no longer economical for companies would encourage non-corrupt companies to simply automate more of the work or remove the need for work whatsoever.  Fortune's article suggests one such solution: "Hotels may reduce their tendency to automatically clean the rooms of their guests, and may charge extra for doing so."  There are plenty of other sound, economically-based arguments again the $15 wage, here are a couple articles for reference.  
All that being said, I want to address a very different aspect of this argument.  Imagine a world where you could make the same amount with an associates degree as if you didn't graduate high school at all.  How many young people are going to strive for a degree at all with that lack of incentive?  Then picture this: you go to the store the day after Thanksgiving for Black Friday shopping, and instead of your usual 1.5 hour wait, you are waiting 10 hours to buy that 50% off game system for your oldest son because every customer has to go through a slow, glitchy self-checkout and the store cannot afford seasonal help to assist customers.  Every police officer on duty is escorting customers out of these stores to ensure they are not shot or robbed of their hard-earned presents, meanwhile there are no officers available to attend to that car that slid off the road due to ice, or to check on the house that is being broken into by an armed robber.  What's worse, your teenage daughter has nothing to put on her resume because she was never able to work until she got her bachelor's degree, since stores and restaurants couldn't afford to higher high school or college kids. 

I believe that young people deserve the right to work for single digit wages.  They deserve the opportunity to get seasonal jobs for while school is out to earn some extra money for the holidays or to save up for a car.  They deserve to learn what it takes to earn money, and to learn the value of the dollar. 

Proponents of the $15 minimum wage are assuming that people making minimum wage are supporting whole families on that, and therefore they need more money to do so.  While the premise may have some truth to it, I think the $15 minimum wage is exactly the WRONG answer to this problem.  What we should be looking to do instead is to figure out why people are trying to support a family without having gotten any useful education or employable skills, how we can reverse this problem, and how we can prepare young people to earn more than minimum wage before they have a family.  For example, programmers make well above minimum wage, and there are literally dozens of free resources already available online that can help individuals learn how to program.  What's more, there is a shortage of programmers and they are only
going to be in increasingly high demand as technology becomes more integrated into everything we have and do. 

In my estimation, it would be far less detrimental to the economy to provide an educational stimulus to allow minimum wage adults to take a paid sabbatical to study programming so that adults that truly need a higher wage to find better paying jobs.  Even this seems like an example of wasteful government spending, since these programs are already free and accessible by anyone with a computer connected to the Internet (which is available for free at the library, if nothing else).  But, this makes more sense to me than the idea of raising the minimum wage to unsustainable levels that will inevitably result in another recession. 

And certainly, programming isn't the only field that could benefit from such an

initiative.  I believe that everyone has potential to excel at something, so if people need more than $8 or $10 per hour, they should seek the kind of help and resources that will get them to the wage they need to support themselves and their families, in whatever field they are passionate about and/or will excel at.  If we start handing out $15 per hour paychecks (or any amount that ensures support for a full family) to people flipping burgers or bagging groceries, what incentives will they have to contribute their deeper, more profound gifts to society? 

Before I belabor my point too much, I will conclude that we should maintain service and labor jobs at wages that make sense for the kind of work being performed, and that we should make the abundant and accessible resources to improve one's financial situation more prevalent.  By doing so, we will lift up the nation and raise the entire productivity of the country, rather than dumbing down our society and pretending that we're spreading wealth to the poor while actually robbing our neediest of the opportunity to work at all. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Any Prize That I Desire

I've mentioned on more than one occasion that I was never excited to by in my 30s.  I owe this partially to my high-flying goals of what I would be before 30, and partially to the fact that my 20s were really quite amazing.  In my 20s, I studied abroad in Japan, had a spring break trip to Cancun, graduated with an Industrial Engineering degree, bought a house, got a dog, studied Six Sigma in California with the CEO of my supplier, studied kung fu with the warrior monks at the Shaolin Temple in China, bought a first year Chevrolet Volt and paraded it around in electric car shows and parades, got an MBA which included a second stint in China, dated lots of men, studied glassblowing, auditioned for a reality TV show, partied in Las Vegas, started a brewery tour business, tackled and completed some very ambitious hikes, went on a cruise vacation of a lifetime with my family, and a hell of a lot more.  I started this blog in my 20s, after a rough breakup, intending it to be a comedic dating blog, only to be cut short by a really wonderful relationship that put an end to my comically tragic single life.  I am reminded of a passage in Evita; musicals, in my opinion, are so powerful because they have a way of speaking to all emotions and aspects of life, no matter where you are in your life or what kind of life you lead.  Here's what Eva sings:
The choice was mine and mine completely
I could have any prize that I desired
I could burn with the splendor of the brightest fire
Or else--or else I could choose time
Remember I was very young then
And a year was forever and a day
So what use could fifty, sixty, seventy be?
I saw the lights and I was on my way

And how I lived! How they shone!
But how soon the lights were gone!

I think this is why I dreaded turning 30, and why I am still not convinced that my 30s will be better than my 20s, as so many others ahead of me have tried to assure me from their experience.  I had a kick ass decade in my 20s, and I really struggle with how I can top it.  What's more, I'm somewhat paying for it now, by way of being overweight, having debt from my schooling, and being tied to a house that has until recently been under water.  In my 20s I consumed life, anything and everything it had to offer.  Fly to California to deliver a presentation?  Sure!  Join kenpo so that I could study martial arts in China?  Sounds good!  Go on a date with a midget and his buddy?  Good for a laugh!  Try my hand at interior decorating?  Let's do it! 

I feel like in my 30s, I should have a focus, and I struggle with what my focus should be, and so I tend not to dive into anything because I'm afraid it's not the right focus.  I feel the burden of responsibility and adulthood weighing on me, in combination with the reality that my life plan hasn't panned out completely - I was going to be rich and in management by now - and it has the effect of indecisive paralysis.  I am grateful for all the things I do have, even little things like the ability to dance and move and think - I learned not to take those things for granted from immobilizing back injuries and migraine headaches.  I am loopy right now from a migraine semi-smothered by drugs, so I hope you'll excuse my if I am a bit tangential.  I am not sure how my sentences will end as I start them, and by the time I finish them I can't remember how they started - that's what I call migraine brain.  I can't hold a full thought in my head, so it becomes something like streaming consciousness. 

I remember the worst migraine brain moment I ever had was when I was working at Honeywell - my head hurt so badly that I realized work was actually not possible because I couldn't think, and it was in the afternoon so I figured I had put in enough time.  I got halfway down the outdoor stairwell when I realized I didn't have my jacket with me.  So I turned around and walked back towards my desk.  But my jacket wasn't at my desk.  It was on a desk in a completely different row than mine where nobody was sitting.  I could not remember placing the jacket there, or even grabbing the jacket in the first place, or dropping it, or walking down that row.  It was as if my migraine caused a five-minute blackout in which I did something that made no sense at all.  I drove home that day, and vomited from the pain immediately after parking in my garage - I almost puked in my car!  After about an hour, I was able to hold down a piece of bread. 

Migraines are no fun, but I am not very eager to try any more serious medication because I saw such treatment destroy my sister's health.  She's better now, thankfully, but she has to avoid her "triggers" and has a cocktail of drugs she uses when a migraine hits.  I use meditation, heat, massage, aromatherapy, and if necessary, OTC drugs to deal with my migraines.  And usually something will work sufficiently for about a day, and the migraine will persist for three days so I have to keep at it until the thing finally leaves. 

But I digress...  my point that I think I was going for was that I haven't been very positive about my 30s because I'm weighed down and have nothing to lift me up.  That is to say that I have no real big aspirations that I'm super stoked for.  I've done so much that I just can't imagine topping it.  I've wanted to go

back to Japan for several years now, in fact, I started yearning to go back during that whole nuclear crisis following the tsunami, which seemed like a bad time to visit but seeing it on the news just stirred me up.  Yet, even as Jaiman and I plan a trip to Japan, I'm not super excited about it.  I want to be, but I'm not.  I love all trips with Jaiman, we have a lot of fun together, and really, I just like spending time with him.  He's a great travel partner, and puts up with my early rising, tackle the world, no rest for the weary attitude.  I think what pains me is the fact that I've wanted to go to Australia for, like, ever, and instead of doing Australia, we're going back to a place I've already been.  Now, granted, I spent my time in Hiroshima, and we're mostly staying in Tokyo, so there is a difference there.  But to most Americans, Japan is Japan is Japan, and Australia is completely different.  I suppose that if we knock out Japan, that Australia will naturally be the next big trip, if I don't ship off to Germany or somewhere in Europe first.  More and more I want to get moved to Europe, and I've been working diligently on my German, despite my dislike for the language and the difficulty I've had with it.  I don't particularly like most German foods or beer, and I hear the weather is pretty dreary there.  Still, it's an adventure of a lifetime to move to a foreign country temporarily, and to be able to take weekend trips to one of many nearby countries that I have yet to explore.  I think it will be great.  But where does Australia play in to all of this? 

I think I first planned Australia in 2009.  When that didn't happen, I was determine to ring in the new year of 2010 there with Rick.  Something fell through, I think it was too expensive, so it didn't happen.  So Christy and I were going to do it in 2011.  School and work got in the way, so it would be 2012, and so on.  Here I am not 7 years later and still haven't made it below the Equator.  Argentina and Brazil are also on the list.  So maybe I need to make my 30s about exploring other continents, like, all the other ones.  And, starting a new business.  And, making my day-to-day life a little better.  I mean really, I have proven to myself that I can accomplish a lot if I set my mind to it, so I just need to name the prize that I want in my 30s. 

It may start with people.  I have done a lot on my own in the last few years, and I spend a lot of time with Jaiman (usually just watching TV, though).  I think I've ostracized myself from my friends, and I think it's time to correct that.  I have found time and time again that sometimes just sharing with someone what is on my mind or what I am trying to achieve has spurred generous contributions to help me achieve my goals.  Even if I don't directly benefit from my friends in that way, having good conversations always energizes me, and I have been feeling a little lackluster lately.  So, I will improve my life by meeting with friends more, and by finding other ways to make my life easier. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Your Home Screen Owns You

Several weeks ago, I did something seemingly very subtle, minuscule even, that changed my day-to-day life.  I gave it a 50/50 chance of having a big impact and having no discernible impact whatsoever.  I am happy to say that it was the former.  This small change has boosted my daily productivity, increased my motivation and decreased the feeling of being drained all the time.  It has also indirectly made me smarter, healthier and more creative.  

Have I sold you on this amazing transformation yet?  If you haven't guessed by the title of the blog, it has to do with that little device we interface with first thing in the morning, last night before we go to sleep and far too many times during the day.  Here's what I did: I removed facebook and email from my Home Screen on my phone.  I moved them to another page, so they are still rapidly available, but I have to consciously think about checking them.  It's a huge difference to not have the nagging icons greeting me every time I reach for my phone.  I don't need to check my email every time a company sends me an advertisement, and I don't need to check my facebook every time a friend "likes" a post of mine.  But I was finding all too often that I would grab my cell phone to look something up, or check on something, and get distracted by the number of alerts on the facebook or email icons, or both, and then forget what I was going to look up.  

In addition to removing these two icons, which was a game changer in and of itself, I also added icons in their places.  I added a link to my library account, where I could check on book/audiobook/DVD requests, and look up new things to request, etc.  And I brought a fitness tracker to the home screen.  This made searching and logging my food more efficient, and made me think more about books I wanted to read or listen to and less about what baby pictures have been posted. 

When we took our epic road trip last summer, I had debated going on a social media hiatus, but decided that it would be valuable to share where we were with our friends and family for safety and because sometimes friends think of local places to check out when they see where they are.  But the idea of disconnecting for a period of time still appeals to me some.  I'm not anti-social media, I just realize that too much of my life is consumed by it, and I struggle with finding the right balance.  

That being said, removing those two icons from my home screen has really proven to me the importance of putting on your home screen what is most important to you, and only that.  Now I am trying to think of ways of incorporating more of the "good stuff" on my home screen.  I want to tie it in with my goals of learning German, learning programming, developing my company, 3D printing, etc.  I've yet to come up with solutions for those, but I am still worlds ahead, in my opinion, having removed email and facebook from my home screen.   

You can put anything on your Home Screen - a To Do list app, an audiobook player, a flashcard app for what you're trying to learn, etc.  I still browse facebook and check my email, but I don't do it obsessively or let it distract me.  I am intentional about going into those apps now, and it has made all the difference in the world.  

Re-dream: 2016 Resolutions

I am listening to an audio book in which a fortune teller tells the main character, "When your dreams all come true, you must re-dream."  She went on to say that you can't live in the past or settle for being content.  You need something to work towards, a new dream of what your life can be.  I can't think of a more appropriate way for me to look forward to the new year and 4 - 5 year outlook than that. 

I sometimes have anxiety over setting goals and making resolutions, because I am so ambitious that I want to set lofty goals, and then I am hard on myself when I fail to achieve those goals in the given amount of time.  But coming out of 2015, I have a renewed energy, because perhaps for the first time in my life, I kept all of my New Year's Resolutions.  In 2014 I accomplished most of my resolutions, with the exception of leaving the country, and getting down to a size 10.  In 2013, my resolutions were pretty much just whack-a-doodle, and in 2012 I had far too many and clearly lost focus.  I set 8 resolutions in 2011 and accomplished none of them.  From this trend, I suppose one could deduce that I have either gotten better about keeping my resolutions, or setting better ones. 
The weight goal is always tricky; its the most common resolution and perhaps the hardest one to keep.  Many of my resolutions are fairly finite: do this one thing and it's complete.  But getting down to a certain size or weight takes continued, renewed effort, and can be un-checked faster than it can be checked.  I didn't set one last year, and if I had, I most certainly would have failed it as I am about the same size and shape as I was a year ago.  So, I am very cautious to set such a goal, but part of me wants to.  Hey, if I was able to commit and accomplish the 8 goals I set in 2015, why not? 

Well, there's the catch.  I didn't do a great job of accomplishing all of my New Year's resolutions last year.  Some of them were barely checking the box.  Part of me wants to believe that if I set goals and resolutions that encourage me to be healthier, like working out every day or make good choices in food, that the weight loss will come.  Part of me thinks that I will get to a point where I've decided it can't be done, and will give up and feel defeated.  Part of me thinks that my other goals run contrary to weight loss - like learning programming. 

The truth is that, despite my success (or maybe just luck) in 2015, I am not really sure how to set goals that I will commit to and achieve.  Sure, we've all heard of the SMART goals, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, blah blah blah.  But I am not convinced those work.  Same with vision boards, where you are supposed to choose images that inspire you and hang them where you will see them every day.  I've had inspirational quotes around my house for years, and they've done nothing to stir my energy.  Accountability partners have failed me too.  And more importantly, I think we should be able to keep ourselves accountable.  We should be able to set out to achieve something, and then achieve it.  A year is a long time.  In fact, we have a little more time in 2016, with it being Leap Year.  I should be able to accomplish just about anything in a year.  But, losing weight won't happen on its own just by setting a goal or sitting down one night to knock it out.  I think to lose weight, you have to set smaller goals.  Eat a salad twice a week.  Work out four times per week.  Walk 10,000 steps a day.  Something that you can strive for in a much shorter term. 

My other problem is that I like variety.  I thrive on it.  Sometimes it bothers me that I lack focus; I don't have that one burning passion in my soul that I would quit my job for and work at day and night.  But I think I've just about decided that that's just me, and that's okay.  So, I'm not going to say that I'm going to write every day of 2016.  Hell, I didn't write at all yesterday, so that boat has already sunk anyways.  In September, I wrote a blog about "A Kinda Really Sorta Perfect Day," in which things didn't really go my way and I wasn't perfect, but I persevered and got things done.  Since then, I've been tinkering with the idea of what makes a "good" day or a "perfect" day.  What I've come up with in the last several weeks is a better formula for success for people like me.  Rather than a strict checklist of things to do every day or every week, I have developed a buffet of sorts.  Here's how it works: I've grouped activities into 6 areas of life.  Each area is something we can all probably improve on.  A good day is completing 3 of those activities, covering at least 2 of the areas.  A perfect day is completing 6 or more of those activities, with at least one in every area. 

Something for the mind:

  • Practice a language
  • Read / listen to an audiobook
  • Take a lesson in programming
  • Do coursework
  • Take a quiet, hot bath; breathe and let your mind rest

Something for the body:

  • Stretch
  • Dance
  • Go for a run / walk
  • Hike
  • Ab workout
  • Lift weights
  • Thighmaster
  • Other form of exercise

Something for the soul:

  • Write
  • Cook a new or tricky dish
  • Build a Lego model or Lego sculpture
  • Design something
  • Paint
  • Craft
  • Create something else

Something for the heart:
  • Pay a colleague a sincere compliment
  • Have a real conversation with someone
  • Call a friend or family member on the phone
  • Have lunch, dinner or drinks with someone
  • Send a card or letter (via real snail mail)
  • Volunteer or do charity work
  • Help a stranger with something

Something for the wallet:
  • Apply for a job
  • Schedule / post on social media for business
  • Eat in
  • Create a graphic, blog or tool for business

Something practical:
  • Empty dishwasher / load and start dishwasher
  • Take trash out / take recycling out
  • Do laundry
  • Clean the bathroom / kitchen
  • Get oil change / tire rotation
  • Pull weeds
  • Other chore

So now, I've made one of my resolutions to have 366 "good" days. In theory, this means that most days I will be doing something good for my body, and the days I'm not doing good for my body, I am doing good for my mind, heart and soul, which are ultimately good holistically anyways.  Also, I believe firmly in making good habits by doing something consistently for a number of days.  I've heard both 21 and 90 days, so I like how this graphic puts it: It takes 21 days to create a habit, it takes 90 days to create a lifestyle.  Imagine what would happen if you succeed in being "good" for 366 days! 

The first resolution I made was around learning programming.  I know a bit of HTML, and I regularly program in VB for work.  But I do not consider myself a good programmer, or really a programmer at all.  It's like how most people know how to write, but that doesn't make them writers; I know how to program, but I am not a programmer.  I have a lot of entrepreneurial ambition that is wasted week after week and month after month because my lack of programming skill prevents me from doing the things that require programming.  I dream of collaborating with a talented, brilliant programmer and partnering with him or her to create this massively successful company.  The problem with that dream is that most programmers are in so high demand they are not really willing to work with a business person like me on my idea, and if they were willing to work on such an idea, they would just as soon start their own company without said business person.  I preach that programming is such a powerful tool that I believe everyone should learn it to a degree, so I've had to swallow the pill that I, too, could use some work developing my skills.  

I have an idea for a better social media management tool that I've been toying
with, and of all my brilliant ideas, this is the one I'm most sold on at the moment.  Of course, a competitor could sweep in and build it before I even learn to program, but that's the risk I suppose I have to take.  And, learning programming will only help me with my next brilliant idea, if that happens.  So after a bit of research, I've settled on HTML, CSS and the Twitter API as my focus for this year, and I'm going to use Codecademy.  It shouldn't take a year to get pretty good at those things, especially because I already know some HTML and CSS, but I want to keep my scope small and get really good at them.  If I am successful, I can then start programming my dreams, and can learn new languages as needed in the coming years.

I won't go into detail now about my motivation for the rest of my resolutions.  I am excited, though, that if I am as successful in 2016 at checking off these boxes as I was in 2015, that great things will happen.  So, with that, here they are.

New Year's Resolutions for 2016

  • Learn HTML & CSS & Twitter API
  • Spend a Weekend Disconnected
  • Design & 3D print something
  • Make a video with Jaiman - performing music, dancing, audition for a reality show or something silly
  • Improve my home in some way
  • Learn Thriller choreography
  • Have 366 "Good" Days

These aren't terribly ambitious for a 366-day year (except making a video with Jaiman, that will take some effort since he is SO camera shy).  They are vague enough that if something specific doesn't happen, I can still check off the boxes, but they are specific enough that I will know when I've accomplished them.  Maybe that is the trick to setting goals, being just specific enough. 

If I've inspired you to make your own New Year's Resolutions, please comment below and let me know!  Also, check out my post from last year, where I provide ideas for tangible, achievable resolutions ideas