Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: The year in review

I've thought about this post for quite some time — how to write it, which details to include and whether I should even write it at all. The memory of this first incident hit me one morning and I realized how far I've come in just a year, both in achievements and attitude. I think I'm proud enough of where I am and who I am today to be able to write about this quite sad, embarrassing time in my life. Maybe it'll help someone who now feels like I felt a year ago. Who knows? Here goes.

On December 31, 2009, I went to a New Year's Eve party with my then-boyfriend, who I'd been dating for about 6 months. The party was at his friend's apartment, and I wanted to have fun, watch the fireworks and ring in the new year right.

For some reason, "ringing in the new year" that night meant mixing myself some really strong drinks and drinking them too quickly. It meant feeling sick and going to lie down while everyone else enjoyed the party. And then it meant feeling really sick and spending the first few hours of 2010 leaning over a toilet, experiencing all the ickiness that comes with drinking too much while also sobbing uncontrollably.

I was that girl. So embarrassing. But wait, it gets worse!

My then-boyfriend later told me that as I sobbed on the bathroom floor of his friend's apartment, I kept repeating something over and over:

"I'm never happy."

I had no recollection of saying that, so I was surprised, and I think I even laughed. "That's so weird," I said. "Of course I'm happy! I might have said that, but I didn't mean it."

I wasn't just saying that; I believed it. But things were rocky in that relationship. My then-boyfriend had a ton of energy, and loved to run, ride his bike and go out with his friends all the time. I was just getting used to my first full-time job, always felt tired and would rather stay in and watch a movie than go out to a bar or theater. He always had events, races and travel plans on the horizon; I did little besides go to work, read and sleep.

We fought about these differences a lot. One time I walked away from him in the middle of an argument because I was too upset to talk through and settle it. He never forgave me for that. He broke up with me the first week of January.

I was heartbroken at the time, but looking back, I can see why he couldn't date me anymore. Who wants to be with someone who just wants to sit at home all the time? Who wants to date someone who confesses through their beer-tears that they're never happy?

In hindsight, I know that I wasn't happy. I wasn't depressed, either, but I was discontent with my life as it was. I had quite a bit going for me, having recently graduated college and landed a good job, but the same thought kept creeping into my mind: "Is this it? Is this what my life will be like until I retire or die — whichever comes first?"

Human-resources-types would say I was missing a work/life balance. Angsty, twenty-something blogger-types would say I was having a quarter-life crisis.

I was always tired. I didn't see my friends very much. I had no hobbies. I didn't exercise. I didn't really watch what I ate. None of these individual elements was particularly alarming to me, but the combination left me in a sort of quiet desperation. For lack of a better way to describe the feeling, I was just kinda bummed about life.

One of the reasons I was bummed was because I thought I wouldn't meet another guy my age anytime soon. I spent the majority of my time commuting on the bus or plugging away at work, and those scenes weren't exactly hopping with eligible young men like college was.

So let's just talk about for a second. Yup, I was on there for a little bit, at the encouragement of my dear mother. I went out with a few guys, all normal, most nice, but none too extraordinary. Then I met a really, really great guy who I dated for a few months. I don't have a single bad word to say about this guy; I just didn't see it going anywhere and very sadly ended the relationship. That was also the end of my experience, thankyouverymuch.

I came out of that just wanting to be single for a while. I was in the midst of paying off my debt and wanted to focus on getting the rest of my life together. I wanted to learn how to navigate on my own, since I always had boyfriends in college and wasn't all that familiar with solitude. I always needed someone else's approval to feel OK.

Leave it up to the universe to throw two guys my way that I couldn't ignore. I ended up dating both of them briefly, despite my well-meaning intentions to stay single. Neither experience went very well, and I was back to being single at the end of the summer and wanting to stay that way.

Something changed at that point, and I decided to start living my life the way I wanted to live it instead of waiting for someone else to tell me that I was OK.

I reconnected with my friends, ones that I've been close with for 10 years, and it breathed some life back into me. I started doing a lot of reading and began realizing that life could be about so much more than work. Opportunities that I never thought I'd be able to have suddenly seemed attainable. I paid off all my debt, which had been a huge burden and a large part of why I felt so trapped in the first place.

I started running. I made calculated efforts to become more adventurous, and started saying "yes" to a lot more invitations and activities. I started initiating activities myself. I went skydiving. I registered for my first 5K (very scary). I made an effort to eat healthier and get more sleep.

I posted more on this blog and remembered how much joy I get from writing. I decided to start taking my dreams very seriously. Ayn Rand's quote, "The question is not who is going to let me, it's who is going to stop me," became a big deal to me.

I finally began to stand on my own two feet.

This didn't all happen at once; some of it has happened slowly over the course of this entire year, but I feel like most of it has happened since the beginning of September. That's when I stopped looking for approval from someone else, and instead started becoming a person that I approve of. After all, I'm stuck with me for the rest of my life, so I might as well like myself.

This is not to say that I now have a perfect life or that I'm the greatest person ever, but I've come a long, long way from the girl who sobbed on the floor last New Year's Eve. I can now say, with absolute conviction, that I am happy every day. I'm not necessarily happy all day, and sometimes not even most of the day, but I am happy. Every. Day.

And actually, I can think of several days in the past few months that I have been happy all day. Last Thursday, I was happy all day.

Things could have easily gone the other way (into a depression, perhaps), or just stayed the same. I could still be pretty bummed about life.

But I realized that I couldn't just sit around and wait for something or someone to come along and make me happy; I had to think about the things in life that would bring me joy, then pursue them. I realize that it's not that simple for everyone, but I feel very fortunate that it was for me.

Nothing is ever hopeless. I wish I'd known that a year ago. Also, I wish I'd known that my own attitude was the main thing that was holding me back from enjoying life. Ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes wrote, "If we could just free ourselves from our perceived limitations and tap into our internal fire, the possibilities are endless."

If it seems like I'm super excited about all the things I have planned for 2011, now you know it's because my life is so different than it was a year ago. I didn't have much to look forward to at the end of 2009 because I wasn't interested in much more than getting through each day. Now I struggle to not get too far ahead of myself with all the things I want to do in the next year and beyond. Now I set goals and challenge myself to be better.

This New Year's Eve, I plan to enjoy a glass of champagne at midnight and then get some rest before I run and dive into a 5K/polar bear plunge on January 1, 2011.

It'll be an absolutely fantastic fresh start.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Blog swap! Angel's 2011 goals

I'm a member of 20 Something Bloggers, a social network for... twenty-something bloggers! I'm not as active on it as I'd like to be — I have a profile, but haven't made the time to connect with many people — so when 20SB emailed me about a blog swap, I figured I'd jump in and participate.

All the participants were randomly paired with another 20SB member to write on each other's blogs about a chosen topic. I was paired with Angel from South Carolina, who was also a blog-swap newbie! Today, she put my post up on her blog, Confessions Of A College Angel, and here is her post on the same topic. Thanks for swapping with me, Angel! And thanks for saying such nice things about me on your blog, although I don't actually run marathons... yet.  : )  —Devon


I’ve never had much use for resolutions. I try every year to make some, and I start out with good intentions, but do you remember that kid in middle school, the one who came to school the first day with a Trapper Keeper (lol, I LOVED those) all organized and neat, everything labeled lovely and so set up? Then within that first week, they were pulling crumpled papers out of the bottom of their bags and digging through piles of papers for one? Yeah, that kid was and still is me.

I have never had a guest poster or swapped blogs with someone before, so when 20 Something offered me the chance to swap with Devon, I was psyched! I was a little worried when I saw the topic, though:

"Action. What will you do next year that you've been putting off for too long?"

What will I do in 2011? This is hard… I have so many things I want to do, and so many things I have been putting off and off and it just seems like they get farther and farther away from me.

Devon has all her junk together, which actually makes this topic a little harder for me. See, I’m in the situation that Devon was in a few years ago right now.

So what will I do?

First, I need to get a car. Preferably a cheap car that I don’t have to make payments on.

I had a large problem in my past with my car that you can read all about here. Go on, I’ll wait. Yes, it’s been a year from the last time I had a car that was mine, so I do need a new car badly. It is hard to work without one, and I’ve had to put off school a little as well.

I also need to move. I have been talking about moving to Memphis for a LONG time now, and never really made strides because I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have a car, I needed to stay and help my family… as Kensei, my fiancé (who’s in Memphis) puts it, a lot of excuses, but no real results.

I also want to have some fun this year, too. I have honestly never been the “fun” girl. I’ve been the girl who got your parents to let you go out because she was going, all of my life. I want to go to parties (or at least get invited, lol), I want to go dancing and clubbing, and just enjoy life because, well, I won’t be in my 20s forever, you know?

But I also owe a LOT of people a LOT of money, so I want to pay off some of my debt and maybe get a handle on myself.

So for 2011, I will get my junk together, get a car, move to Memphis and hopefully have some fun.

I hope that you enjoyed this look into the Confessions Of A College Angel, and I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog!


Friday, December 17, 2010

Back to the beginning

Last month, I used my credit card for the first time since I began to pay it off in January 2010. It had been void of any activity since May, when I paid it off completely. No purchases, no payments. Just sittin' in my wallet.

I used it for my purchases on the cruise — drinks, gratuity, drinks, gifts, drinks, etc. It all came out to about $300, and it was worth every penny.

I was so relieved to pay it all off as soon as I got home, to see that balance drop back to its rightful $0.00. It reminded me of how I started all my trouble with credit four years ago at this exact time of year.

When I began Googling around for a student credit card in December 2006, I was broke but had good intentions. I had realized that after paying for tuition and books that quarter, I wouldn't be able to afford Christmas presents for my family. (My parents would be horrified to find out that this is why I signed up for my first credit card, but if it hadn't been this, it probably would have been something else down the line.)

With a meager income and no credit history, I snagged a student credit card with a $1,000 limit and six months of 0% interest. I totally thought I would buy the presents, pay off the balance before the 0% interest rate expired and be free and clear. Ha!

My roommates and I booked a cruise around that same time so we could set sail for our spring break in March 2007. Guess how I paid for my share of the cost? Yup, with that shiny new credit card. My guess is that tacked about $600 onto my balance. Stupid, stupid.

From there, the whole debacle is a blur. I always paid at least the minimum payment on time, and I was rewarded for my good behavior with an ever-increasing line of credit. I celebrated with an ever-increasing balance to match. I figured that as long as I stayed under my limit and made my minimum payments, I was fine.

I should note here that my interest rate jumped from 0% to 19.99% after the six-month introductory period. That's when the credit card company began to make unholy amounts money off of me, and also when I began to drown.

I would use the actual money I earned at my job to buy frivolous stuff, like clothes, then use my credit card when I realized I didn't have enough money in my checking account for slightly more important things, like groceries. I was spending all the money I had, then spending more that I didn't have. And I could never make a dent in my balance that wouldn't be eclipsed by the interest that was tacked on the next month. "Vicious cycle" is the overused-but-applicable term here.

This continued until September 2009, when I moved back into my mom's house and started my first real job. I planned to throw as much money as I could toward my credit card debt (just over $6,500) and pay it off completely before I moved into a place of my own. I figured it would be a piece of cake since I would be making much more money than I had made from my part-time job in college and I would have far fewer expenses to cover.

It probably would have worked out that way if I had made a priority of paying down the card and if I had paid more attention to how much of my income I was spending on happy hours, clothes, etc. It turns out that if you don't manage your money very well to begin with and tend to spend it rather than budget and save it, having more money only means you'll spend more money. Huh.

I finally got my finances straight in January 2010, and the rest is history (you can read about it here and here). I feel like I've come full circle in that four years later, I'll be buying Christmas presents for my family with money that I actually have, and I've recently enjoyed a cruise that was funded by me, not some credit card company.

The story of how I got into debt is full of coulda-shoulda-woulda regrets and hindsight-is-20/20 "d'oh!" memories. Would I go back to 2006 and shake little 19-year-old Devon by the shoulders before she started down the destructive path of irresponsible credit use? After everything that I've learned from this experience, no.

Luckily, I never got into too terrible of a financial situation and I was able to get myself out of debt fairly quickly. I never lost a car, a home or the ability to attend college due to my debt. It didn't negatively affect any friendships, romantic relationships or my family members. And I actually have a sterling credit history, as I never missed a payment or exceeded my credit limit.

But being in debt did hold me back in some ways. When I graduated from college, I was very anxious to get a job because I knew I needed the money to make my monthly credit card payment. I didn't have the luxury of taking time off to travel, do an unpaid internship or just figure myself out before jumping headfirst into the job market. I had no savings to fall back on. The credit card company essentially owned me.

I particularly remember finding an intriguing internship with a community newspaper on Molokai, a small Hawaiian island, shortly after graduation. The six-month internship began in August and paid very little, but did provide room and board. No offense to my fellow journalism grads, but most every aspiring reporter starts out with a position in some little Nowheresville town to pay their dues. I figured why not do this in Nowheresville, Hawaii?

The editor of the Molokai paper contacted me by saying that my application stood out, and that he'd like to schedule a phone interview. But first he wanted to know: Could I not only survive, but thrive on only $40 a week on a remote island where I'm unfamiliar with the people and the culture?

The dream died at "$40 a week." Sure, I could survive on that if I only had to worry about feeding myself and such. But my minimum monthly payment alone was something like $150 at that point. Plus, my student loan repayment would kick in midway through the internship, tacking another $50 (minimum) on to the Money I Owed Other People each month. Goodbye sunshine, coconuts and sandy beaches.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

Molokai may have never happened for me anyway, or maybe I would have hated it there, but the point is that my debt held me back from a big adventure. It dictated the decisions I made, and all because I spent a bunch of money I didn't have, then had to pay it all back — plus interest! — for the privilege.

You'll notice that I've been pursuing all kinds of adventures — including some costly ones — since I've become debt-free and accumulated savings. I've been able to skydive, run races, register for a half marathon, book a weekend conference, go on a cruise, plan to buy a digital SLR camera and realistically dream about traveling to faraway places — all because I've prioritized adventures and new experiences over buying a bunch of stuff that I don't need and will forget about anyway.

I don't know if I would have realized that adventure is one of the things I really want in life had I not been hit so hard with some things I really don't want: slavery to creditors and desperation between each paycheck. No, thanks. I choose freedom, financial and otherwise. I choose the bananas.

And I wouldn't trade that realization for the world.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Grabbing the bananas

Several good things happened today. I'll begin at the beginning.

Good Thing #1:

My mom emailed this to me after I told her that my future roommates and I signed a lease for a lovely townhouse this morning. I laughed out loud. And then I nearly teared up.

But then I began envisioning how I would decorate my new room, and I got so excited. We get the keys the day after Christmas.

(Yes, my mom calls me Devie-Doodle. You heard it here first.)

Good Thing #2:

(Please note that if I were the Punctuation Fairy, I would add a possessive apostrophe to this logo...)

This is happening. I was innocently browsing 2011 races by month, looking for a 10K to do at some point before I attempt a half marathon in June, when I thought, "Hey, I wonder if there are any races on my birthday!"

Lo and behold, this 15K (9.3-mile) race around Lake Union falls on the 24th anniversary of my screaming entrance into this world. (My poor mom, Mama Bird up there, was likely also screaming on that day, since she asked for the epidural just a tad too late. Oops! I plan to request my future epidural approximately nine months before I'm due to give birth. On the rocks, please.)

I ran into a snag while completing my registration for this race, because not only did the online form ask for my date of birth, it also asked, "How old will you be on May 21, 2011?" Ummm. Hmmm. I'll be 23 until about 1:30 p.m., then 24 for the rest of the day.

(The race starts at 7 a.m. I put 24 anyway.)

Good Thing #3:

Well, hello, Chris Guillebeau! This man, who is a massive source of inspiration and general awesomeness, visited the UW Bookstore this evening as part of The Art of Non-Conformity book tour. I'll have you know that he told me I was awesome and gave me a hug just as I finished chatting him up and he finished signing my book.

I'll also have you know that this was not the first time he told me I was awesome.

When I got back from the cruise, this note from Chris was waiting for me on the kitchen table:

I told you the man has a way with words! Inside the note, he wrote, "Devon— so glad you're coming to WDS! —Chris."

I thought this was pretty sweet, but I wondered about the stamp on the back of the envelope. What does this dude have against monkeys?

If I had his book more fresh in my mind, I would have remembered the monkey story he referenced in The Art of Non-Conformity, a story that I first read about in one of Dave Ramsey's books. Ramsey tells the story like this:

John Maxwell tells of a study done on monkeys. A group of monkeys were locked in a room with a pole at the center. Some luscious, ripe bananas were placed at the top of the pole. When a monkey would begin to climb the pole, the experimenters would knock him off with a blast of water from a fire hose. Each time a monkey would climb, off he would go, until all the monkeys had been knocked off repeatedly, thus learning that the climb was hopeless. The experimenters then observed that the other primates would pull down any monkey trying to climb. 
They replaced a single monkey with one who didn't know the system. As soon as the new guy tried to climb, the others would pull him down and punish him for trying. One by one, each monkey was replaced and the scene repeated until there were no monkeys left in the room that had experienced the fire hose. Still, none of the new guys were allowed to climb. The other monkeys pulled them down. Not one monkey in the room knew why, but none were allowed to get the bananas.

Chris uses this story to illustrate that people may try to bring you down if you attempt to live an unconventional life, just because they think everything should be done a certain conventional way (but can't really explain why). They'll get mad and punish you if you attempt to reach an amazing goal that they never believed was possible for themselves to achieve. I instantly realized the significance of the anti-monkey stamp when I read what Chris inscribed in my book:

Such a good day, and so much good stuff coming up. I hope y'all are ready to go out and grab the bananas, too.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Two great things

Today my cousin sent me some photos that he'd taken over Thanksgiving weekend.

This is my 91-year-old granddad looking through some family photos on my cousin's iPad. I'm looking on in awe because I couldn't believe how quickly he caught on to using it. My cousin couldn't believe it, either — hence this photo.

This was a great day. All of my granddad's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were under one roof for the first time. I'm glad that I will always remember this day and the time we spent with him.

On another, slightly related note, I came across this beautiful instrumental today. It made me a bit emotional after I had looked at the pictures of my granddad.

This song makes me cry, but I've listened to it over and over today. I'm really good at burying inconvenient feelings, like sadness, deep down so that they don't creep up on me unexpectedly. I'm really good at pretending I'm OK even if I'm not. Sometimes it's nice to have something like this bring those feelings up so I can actually feel them like I'm supposed to.

Some stuff in life is just really, really tough. But at the very least, it helps me remember to be grateful for every moment, and to treasure the time I have with the people I love.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winding down 2010, gearing up for 2011

Dear blog,

I'm sorry that I've been ignoring you. But guess what? After a year and three months of living with my mom, I'm house hunting!


When I was in the midst of paying off all my debt, I wrote a list of specific financial goals — ones that I needed to accomplish before I could move out. I'm happy to report that I have only half of one goal left to cross off, and that is moving out itself:

1. Pay off my credit card by my birthday.
2. Pay off my student loan by July 1. (OK, technically it was July 16.)
3. Move out of my mom's house by the end of January 2011 with no debt and more than $10,000 in the bank.

(A year ago, the last half of the last goal seemed impossible, but here I am. It wasn't easy to accomplish, but everything has been worth it.)

Looking for a place to live is exciting, but time-consuming and a bit stressful. Mostly exciting. I'll let you know when my future roommates and I nail down a place and get the details worked out.

Until then, posting on Answering Oliver will be light since I'm a perfectionist and like to spend way too much time writing these posts. It's a sickness.

In the meantime, you can keep an eye on my running blog, where it's much easier on my psyche to throw up quick posts that I don't have to obsess over. Plus, I'll have tons of stuff to write about there since I need to start training for my next 5K and another little race that I'm registered for...

Oh, yes. It's happening.

I'm ridiculously excited for 2011. The half marathon is just one of many adventures I have planned. Let's finish 2010 strong, and then go get it!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Notes from the Caribbean and beyond

The answer is yes.


The cruise hit Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos...

San Juan, Puerto Rico...

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands...

And Half Moon Cay, Bahamas...

We were pretty tired by the time the ship stopped at Half Moon Cay, so this is about the most exciting picture I have from there. I was also really sunburned, hence the hat. I had done a pretty good job of keeping my sunscreen on (went through a whole bottle of SPF 50!) until we went to St. Thomas.

Watch out for St. Thomas. The rum will sneak up on you.

We were able to do all the excursions we wanted to do: clear-bottom kayaking in Grand Turk, where we searched for conch shells and held non-poisonous jellyfish; ziplining in San Juan, which is something I've always wanted to do and had a lot of fun doing; and snorkeling in St. Thomas, which is pretty much the greatest place in the entire world, ever.

Fun fact: our snorkeling guide was from Woodinville! He graduated from my high school a few years ahead of me. I'm thinking the whole leave-Woodinville-and-move-to-St.-Thomas thing sounds pretty good. Or move to any part of the Caribbean. The weather was sunny and warm — upper 70s and low 80s — every single day.

Did I mention that it snowed the day after I got back to Seattle? Did I mention that it began snowing about 10 minutes after I crossed the finish line at the Green Lake Gobble 5K? Did I mention that I thought I would never cross that finish line since I had just spent a week eating and drinking to my body's capacity nearly every day?

Oh, man. Was I ever happy to cross that finish line.

How to look like a giant nerd while... you know.

I was only back in Seattle for a few days before I was off to southern California for Thanksgiving with my dad, his fiancee, my brother and our extended family — my 91-year-old granddad, his partner, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins/their wives and kids.

The goal of the trip was to spend time with my granddad, as his time left on Earth is growing shorter. I was able to hear more of his great stories, fill him in on my recent adventures and tell him some things I wanted him to know before he passes.

My granddad once wrote in a Christmas card that he wished he knew me better, and that broke my heart a little bit. I grew up in Washington and only visited him every few years, and never had in-depth conversations with him. There obviously wasn't time this Thanksgiving to catch up on all 23 years of my life or all 91 of his, but there was time to tell him about this past year, during which I've been able to catch my footing in life and figure a few things out. I also printed out several entries from this blog that I thought would help him know me better, and I'll never forget how delighted he was as he started to read them.

Most of all, I just wanted him to know that I'll be OK. That we'll all be OK. That he's been an amazing father and grandfather, and that he's helped create a thriving family of slightly weird people who really love him a lot.

I know he's visited some fantastic places in his life, and I told him that I'd like to see the world. He said he thought that was a fine idea. "I really hope you do that," he said. "You'll never regret spending the money."

I said yes, I will do that. And when I do, I will think of you.

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