Managing Your Money

I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater. And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too. –Steve Martin

 

 

 

Tackling this topic is not very smart. I’m certain some of my readers will disagree with some of the points I will make. Again, my thoughts are all subjective. I share them only to give you a starting-off point or an example of one way to go. People worry about money for all different reasons and most of the time, those worries are valid. I’m often asked how I was able to retire when I was 58 years old.

The average retirement age in the United States among currently living retirees was 59.88 years old. The median living retiree left work at 62 years old, and the most common age to retire was 62 years old. 18.7% of retirees retired at age 62, and a whopping 63.1% retired between the ages of 57 and 66Feb 27, 2019
Average Retirement Age in the United States – DQYDJ – DQYDJ.com

With the average age at 59.88 years old, there are people retiring a lot older and a lot younger than I was. I was fortunate to retire earlier than the median age of 62. This is how I did it:

Your Retirement Fund — When you’re in your 20s the last thing you’re thinking about is retirement. You’re wondering how you’re going to pay off your college loans, whether or not you’ll have rent money, where you’ll get the money to fix the car — you get my point. But honestly, if you want to retire at an earlier age, you have to put some money into a retirement account as soon as possible. It almost has to be like a car payment or rent. It takes discipline. I understand that for some people, this isn’t even a remote possibility. Whenever I received a pay increase, I raised the amount my employer took out of my salary for my 401K (I was fortunate to have employer contribution matching for 20 years of my career, I understand that it’s rare for employers to match these days). Because they deduct the money pre-tax, you pay less taxes on your income. You are not taxed on the money until you retire, at which point you will theoretically be drawing less annually and therefore, you will be in a lower tax bracket. Let’s just say that if you are single and you are not responsible for others, you might be able to do this.

Side note:  financial advisors told me that upon retirement I needed to be able to draw two-thirds of my annual salary in order to maintain my lifestyle. I always thought that was a crock and that they told you that so that they (and their companies) would earn more money. Most financial firms charge you an annual percentage of your savings; the more you have put away, the better they do. I guess you can’t blame them for that. I have found that my needs and desires have changed as I’ve gotten older. It doesn’t hurt that I now live in a country that is far less expensive than just about anywhere in the States. Also, I caution you to do extensive research on financial institutions. There are a lot of bad players out there and the last thing you want is to see the money you worked so hard to save, disappear.

Borrowing — When big life decisions come up, like buying a car or a house, you cannot take the money out of your retirement account. I learned this lesson the hard way. The government will penalize you in two ways:  first, you’ll have to pay a ten percent penalty for early withdrawal, and then you’ll have to pay tax on the money as if you’ve earned it — it can turn out to be thousands of dollars that you do not have. When you’re young, it’s easy to tell yourself that you can use your retirement savings and worry about it later — it’s a bad call. An alternative is a retirement fund that allow you to borrow from them (research your fund). In essence, it’s like you are the bank and you are loaning yourself money. When you pay back the loan, you are paying interest to yourself. So you are paying for the loan, but at least the payback money is going in your pocket. Keep in mind that the amount you’re borrowing has no earning power while you are paying the money back. Some whole life insurance policies offer you the same benefit. It’s better to avoid this option altogether if you can. And by the way, do not get suckered into a whole life policy as a way to save for the future. Term life is a cheaper and better security blanket for your family. And if your employer offers life insurance as a benefit, don’t count on that policy to take care of your family. If you lose your job, you lose that insurance. Therefore, you should either have money in savings to protect your family or term life insurance (if you’re young and healthy, it’s fairly inexpensive).

Saving — Save for the things you want to buy. Buying on credit is expensive and debt piles up quickly. There are guidelines about percentages of your salary that might be helpful, but we all know that you can only save money if you have money to save.

Saving Tips

54 Ways to Save

Budgeting — Budgeting is a big deal. It allows you monitor the funds coming in and going out. You’ll know what to put aside for the essentials and you’ll hopefully know what will be left at the end of your pay period. I always overestimated my utilities. I knew that my electricity bill would be high during the summer months because I hate heat. I knew my AC would be cranked and frankly, I’d pay for AC before I would buy new clothes or take a trip. Your budget should be adjusted whenever you have a major financial change (pay increase, rent increase, mortgage, etc.). Spending within your means is essential. People end up under water because they spend more than they earn.

Frivolous Spending — Small extravagances are dangerous. I remember working with people who stopped at Starbucks on the way to work everyday. They spent $10 a day at a coffee shop everyday and that was breakfast 10 years ago. That adds up to $200 dollars a month for coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I always made coffee and had oatmeal or cereal at home; saved me thousands over the years. That’s just one expense — think about all of the others you can avoid or live without.

I have used frivolous spending as a reward I dangled in front of myself if and when I achieved long and short-term goals. If I had a great meeting at work, I’d treat myself to a morning cappuccino. It makes for a sweet reward and a little private celebration. If I achieved a big goal (like my Ph.D.or a big promotion at The French Culinary Institute), I’d treat myself to a nice vacation or I would upgrade my car. I’ve never really cared for fancy resorts. I was once treated to a few days at a Ritz Carlton Resort in Arizona. I ordered a cocktail poolside and it was $25; I thought to myself, I could have bought myself a new shirt for that much money.

Credit Cards — Credit card debt is the worst debt you can have. Well not true, if you borrowed money from my mother’s friend Vinnie in Brooklyn and had to pay him back twice what you borrowed, that was pretty bad. The problem with credit cards is that they allow you to pay back a minimum amount each month and before you know it, your debt is greater than your monthly income. I once gave all of my credit cards to a friend and I told him to never give them up, even if I begged. Spending can become an unwanted addiction. Keep one or two low interest cards to have for travel and emergencies. There are also cards that draw from your checking or savings; even better.

Mileage programs — Credit card companies and airlines have become very greedy (I know, they always were). There was a time when your miles meant something. Now there are enormous fees that come along with “free” tickets or hotel rooms. I personally like hotels.com; you get a free room after you’ve booked ten nights using their service. The fees and taxes you pay for your free room are nominal — I’m wondering how long this program will last.

Going Out — Going to bars will set you back. A night at the bar could be outrageously expensive. If the point is to hang out with your friends, you should consider taking turns hosting. Beer in the supermarket is a lot cheaper and a bottle of vodka can go a long way. Don’t do take out — way too expensive. Some sandwiches or snack foods will save you lots of money. It’s not being cheap, it’s being smart (just to make you jealous:  a beer at a bar or cafe in Faro is one euro or 1.50 euro; a mixed drink is usually 3 euros and sometimes even less. Crazy huh?

I was at a bar with friends in New York City last year and I decided that since they all came to see me, I should buy a round. I looked at the check to see what I should tip and the check was over $100 — sticker shock!

Eating in Restaurants — I love eating out; as does most of the world. Letting someone else cook and do the dishes is quite a treat. I know people who never cook or eat in and I have to say I’m a little jealous. Similar to drinking in bars, eating out can cut into your savings or add to your monthly budget. If you’re trying to save for a house or a college education, you might consider either cooking more or eating at less expensive restaurants. I love my own cooking so this isn’t too much of an issue for me. When I lived in New York and Maine it was difficult to avoid eating out a lot. When I was at the French Culinary Institute I had to eat out to keep up with our alumni and current food trends. Then of course, most of my friends are big time foodies and most of our social activities centered around food and eating out. Every once in a while I would suggest taking a long walk or eating in just to mixed things up a bit and save some cash. Keep track of what you’re spending at restaurants. When you look at the amount, it may help you cut back.

 

Vacations — I love Airbnbs because I can cook some of my own meals. So many benefits if you like to cook:  you know the ingredients are fresh and you can save lots of money. I also do a lot of research on off-season bargains, etc. It’s so important to get away; it’s a great way to gain perspective and escape from your worries for a bit. For me it’s always been a good excuse for allowing myself to shut down. It’s also a great opportunity to spend leisure time with friends. I also get extra satisfaction from having snagged a bargain.

Generosity — If you’re from a big family, there are lots of weddings, showers, birthdays, anniversaries and different ways to celebrate. And then there’s Christmas, Hanukkah, bar mitzvahs, oy vey. Being generous and buying expensive gifts is great if you have a load of cash, but let’s face it, few of us do. Gift giving should be more about showing someone you care with a token gesture, but it’s become competitive and sometimes the expectations are unfair and unrealistic. For example, if you don’t spend a lot of money on a unique Valentines gift, it means you don’t love your partner. Sometimes a discussion about limits and expectations is warranted in order to keep things reasonable. More communication is always better. I think it’s great to be generous, but also prudent to live within your means.

Keeping Your Eye on the Prize — If early retirement or retirement in a beautiful place is your goal, keep it dangling in front of you at all times. What will it take to get there? How much do you need to put away annually? Where can you cut back in order to get there faster? Entice yourself with photographs and journal entries describing what it will be like.

What I Might Have Done Differently

Regrets are a waste of time and it turned out pretty well for me despite the mistakes I made, but for your benefit, the following are some things I might have done differently:

  • I should have started savings earlier.
  • I spent a lot of money on a Whole Life insurance policy thinking it would grow over time and benefit me in retirement. It was a waste of money and I eventually cashed it in.
  • I spent a lot of money on silly gadgets (i.e. kitchen tools, TVs, electronic equipment) throughout my life. I wish I had been a bit more prudent.
  • I spent way too much money on “the other guy” in relationships; oh well.
  • I had a little country house in Pennsylvania for ten years. If I could do it over, I’d rent. Buying a second home is great for entertaining and bragging rights, but it is very expensive and a lot of work. I spent most weekends doing repairs and taking care of the yard; hardly a place to relax and unwind (although I did enjoy some good times there).
  • Sometimes I forget to check to see what I have in the refrigerator or pantry. I end up buying too much of something and end up having to throw away food that is no longer fresh.
  • I’ve always enjoyed casinos and I’ll leave it at that.

Note:  My brother and his wife are visiting from the States. I told my brother I was writing this blog and this was his reaction:

“Chris, you don’t understand, the only person you have to take care of is yourself. I have a wife, children and grandchildren to care for. It’s a lot harder for me bro.”

This is the reaction I feared. I’m hoping my readers can find something helpful here. If I missed anything, please chime in.

 

I see the moon over Faro (left) in the morning (back view) and the sunset over the Ria Formosa in the evening (right, terrace view) and it makes all the sacrifices I had to make to get here worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

Accepting What You See in the Mirror

“Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be again.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor seemed to have it together. My goal is to think the way Eleanor thought. Well, we know that’s not happening. I took these selfies recently and let me tell you, I’m not a selfie taker (I read that all selfie takers say that). I’m not sure why I took them or where I took them, but they do pretty much sum up how I feel about getting older.

 

 

Getting older is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I think:  it’s not fair that my father was handsome his entire life (he was 87 when he died) or see that wattle under your chin, you deserve it for teasing your mom about hers. I want to love every line on my face and embrace my sagging eyelids and I want to believe that there is a reason there is more hair in my ears than on the top of my head; although I might have to let that one go.

I was coerced and cajoled into going to a Carnival party last night. You know the feeling:  I’m too old, I’ll be invisible. I don’t want to dance, the food will suck, and so on. I pushed myself so that I could prove to myself and my new Portuguese friends, that I could party with the best of them. I decided to wear whiteout make-up in hopes that it would cover my lines, I sported a new t-shirt, newly refurbished black boots and some borrowed red lipstick. I made an effort and it worked. I had a great time and although I wished the party had started a bit earlier, I stuck it out for a few hours and I went to sleep smiling; facial lines intact.

 

 

I know all of this is normal growing older stuff and I know that at some point I will probably embrace it, but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying to be better at it now. In the meantime, I need to continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

 

Some Things One Can Do to Embrace the Aging Process:

  1. Take care of your skin — Twenty years ago, I paid quite a lot of money for a facial in New York City just to learn how to take better care of my skin. The biggest lesson I learned was about toner. It’s really important to close your pores after you’ve washed your face or shaved. If you do not close your pores or use toner to close your pores, anything you put on your skin will go right into your pores and clog them up. That’s when you end up with blackheads and pimples; yes I still get pimples — moisturizer is also important for preventing wrinkles; dry skin is more likely to wrinkle. Some men are way too macho to care about this stuff, but for those who do, it is possible to have good skin your entire life.
  2. Take care of your body — We all know that unless you eat right and exercise, your body will give you all sorts of problems. Thirty minutes of exercise a few days a week will go a long way for good health. Eating fresh food and taking vitamin supplements are also essential. I do it all in moderation (or I won’t do it). Genetics plays into aging; however, how well you take care of your body is a huge factor in how well you age.
  3. Stay sharp — Mind, body and spirit are usually the three aspects of your life that experts point to when discussing good health. Keeping your mind sharp means that you have to exercise your brain. Sitting in front of your television can be relaxing and benefit your mental wellbeing, but doing things that stimulate your mind are key to staying mentally sharp. Reading, puzzles, attending lectures, and participating in stimulating conversation, are examples of things you can do to stay sharp. Don’t let your brain atrophy.
  4. Dress Up — This is a difficult one for me. Give me a nice cotton tee-shirt and some soft cotton sweatpants and I’m good to go. That’s okay for grocery shopping or taking a brisk walk, but when you’re going out for dinner or to a concert, make the extra effort and dress up a bit. People around you will show you how much they appreciate the effort. When we get lazy and let ourselves go, it affects the way we feel about ourselves and has a negative impact on the way we interact with others. It can be so subtle we don’t see it, but trust me, it’s there. Experiment with this and wear a sports jacket and tie to dinner; you’ll see a big difference in the way people treat you — you too ladies (without the tie though).
  5. Pamper yourself — vacation, massage, long walk on the beach and so many other things you can do to say “I love you” to yourself.
  6. Be graceful and gracious — Always put your best self forward. Good manners and a positive attitude go a long way in navigating the world around you. We all need one another at one point or another. Show the people around you that you appreciate them; when you need something, people will remember how you treated them or whether or not you thanked them. We all need to be appreciated. I have had to remind several people in my life that I should not and will not be taken for granted. It’s all part of being a good friend or family member — we can all learn from one another. People always say that the world was once a kinder, gentler place. It’s difficult to know how true that statement is; however, it doesn’t hurt to strive to improve; we all benefit from a kinder world.
  7. Volunteer — An opportunity to give back, do something fulfilling and meet new people.
  8. Remember the alternative is not-so-good

 

What to Say to People When They Ask You How Old You Are?

  • I used to add ten years onto my age to see what kind of reaction I’d get. One time I did that and the person said, “That’s what I would have guessed.”  Needless to say, I stopped doing that.
  • You can stand tall and proudly declare your exact age.
  • You can lie if it makes you feel better.
  • You can say, “I’m in my 50s but I feel like I’m 30.”
  • You can tell people what was happening in the world when you were born. There was a major solar eclipse on the day I was born. I like sharing that for some reason. I believe the strength of the sun on the day I was born had a lot to do with my birth. You don’t have to agree with me, that’s okay.
  • I wouldn’t say, “How old do you think I am?” unless you are prepared for the answer.
  • You can say, “Old enough.”
  • Fill in the blank __________________________.

 

How Others Age

Try not to compare yourself to others. Like I said earlier, genetics play a major role in aging. Some people seem to have better skin. Some people have arthritis and some don’t. Some people can build muscle more easily. You get my point; be easier on yourself.

One of the things I love about growing older is that you seem to care less about what others think — it’s freeing to say the least. I’m looking forward to caring even a little less. I’m talking about the divisive stuff, not the loving and caring stuff.

 

A couple of good articles:

Aging in Beauty

Learning to Love Growing Old

Coping with Aging

 

Daylight Savings Time

I received calendar messages reminding me about daylight savings time yesterday. I thought that I was losing an hour, so I went to bed earlier and woke up later (I had changed all of my clocks before I went to bed). When I woke up the time on my phone hadn’t changed, so I did a bit of research. I learned that daylight savings time will not happen in Portugal until March 31. I’m not happy about this. Why do we continue this antiquated practice and why can’t all the countries who still do it, do it at the same time? Just sounding off a bit.

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I’m adding a section to my blog called “Blog Truth.” I will tack this section onto the end of my blog when something is weighing on my mind and I believe it needs to be said. You might ask, “Isn’t that what your blogs are all about?” The answer is yes, except that there are times when I don’t want to write an entire blog about a singular thought. For example:

Blog Truth

I’m fairly certain that I alienated some of my readers by revealing early drug use. I believe this is true because of non-reaction from readers who usually weigh-in. Perhaps I am wrong; perhaps these folks had nothing to say — that is what I hope to be true. Most of the reactions I receive are sent privately. For this particular blog, I surprisingly had very little feedback. Feel free to let me know what you think; publicly or privately.

backlit beach clouds dawn

Perspective

 

I like to think that I’m a big picture kinda guy, except that I’m not. I get pretty bogged down in minutia. Big picture would mean that I’d be considering how I fit into the scheme of things and how small I am compared to the universe. It’s time for me to start differently. Getting older and living overseas helps; however, I still think about what’s to come more than I should. I am constantly about living in the present, but the present just passed me by, in a big way. How about I try just living?

 

Who Am I?

You need to figure out who you are before you can consider how you fit in with the rest of the world.

It’s a big question, no? It would obviously take up a great deal of blog space to provide an answer and I’d end up boring you to death. Therefore, I’m going to attempt to answer this question in just a few short sentences. Hopefully some of what I have to say will resonate for you.

I am first a foremost a human being. The reason it is important to acknowledge this is simple:  human beings are flawed; accepting this is the key to accepting yourself. Next, my identity:   I am Christopher, a name given to me, that I have always liked. I am nearly 60 years old, caucasian, gay, and divorced (the order doesn’t matter). I am insecure, fairly healthy, happy, sad, and about 20 pounds overweight. I am sort of retired; however, I’m not sure I actually believe that. I am average looking (meaning I don’t believe that I am ugly), a bit taller than the average man, I still get pimples, I am bald, I am arthritic, I am quick to judge, I feel deeply and cry easily, I work hard on my friendships, I love most of my family, I have achieved some financial success, I am proud of my career, I am educated, I drink too much, and I can be lazy. Most of this stuff is easy for others to see and some of it may be a surprise — I like that the people around me don’t know everything about me. Yes, there is more to learn (for another time).

Let me stop now and conclude that in truth, I not fully aware of who I am. Lately, I have scratched the surface and thus far, I like most of what I see. Discovering who you are is a big part of life’s journey. That journey is far from over.

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I give myself a facial once every few weeks. I’m not sure it doesn’t anything for my skin, but it makes me feel better about myself; certainly I feel cleaner.

 

How Does Who I Am Fit Into the Rest of the World

It doesn’t hurt to be answering this question in my beautiful hotel room, with a magnificent view of Seville, Spain. Sometimes, in order to gain perspective, it helps to be out of your element.

As I begin to see myself as a very small part of the universe, it helps me to understand where and how I fit in. A tiny part of me is fully aware of the difference I make in other people’s lives. Would they survive without me? Absolutely. Would the world keep turning? Of course. I know in my heart that each of us, in a small way, can change the world. I also acknowledge that some of us have the ability to change it in a big way; I’m thinking:  Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barack Obama, Gandhi, and people like that; people we should be grateful for and grateful to.

In short, I fit like a pair of mismatched shoes; the feet go in, but something doesn’t look quite right. You know what? That’s okay.

 

Who Do I Want to Be?

Most of us start thinking about this question early in our lives; I know I did. Funny thing is we don’t always come to a conclusion. I find myself reflecting on this question quite often. There are times when I’m sailing along and I’m thinking, I am an educator and I’ll just keep educating. And then there are times when I think, I haven’t amounted to much. The latter is of course, irrational thinking. It’s a trap we all fall into — the ol’ I’m not good enough trap. On good days I know that this is ridiculous. Still, coming to terms with the presence of demons is important for growth. These days, I acknowledge the demons and then I decide to deal with them. It’s okay not to know the complete answer to this difficult question. It’s okay to search. The implicit meaning of searching is to seek an answer; an action and therefore, not stagnation.

Dictionary result for search

verb
  1. 1.
    try to find something by looking or otherwise seeking carefully and thoroughly.
    synonyms: huntlookexploreforage, fish about/around, look high and low, cast about/around/round, ferret (about/around), root about/around, rummage about/around; More

noun
  1. 1.
    an act of searching for someone or something.
    “the police carried out a thorough search of the premises”

 

Reality Check

It is important for me to acknowledge that at 60 years old, I will probably not achieve a few of my goals. I can sit around and pout and beat myself for this or I can set realistic goals. That is not to say that I should abandon everything I’ve wished for. When I take inventory of what I have achieved, it makes me feel better about what I have not. I don’t reduce my list of goals, I adjust it. Knowing your limits is essential. Reaching beyond your limits is healthy and may surprise you. It’s all about balance and your personal threshold.

I’ve heard it said that when people are dying and they are asked if they have any regrets, there are a few common answers:

  1. I wish I had spent more time with the people I love.
  2. I wish I had worked less.
  3. I wish I had worried less.

There are more, but these are the ones I am paying the most attention to. It’s important for me to learn from the mistakes others have made and learn from the lessons others have taught me.

architecture black and white challenge chance
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

An Organic Lifestyle

These days the word organic is overused and abused. I thought twice about using it today because it has been watered down of late. I am going to simply state that it is my goal to gain some perspective on my life by allowing it to unfold before me more organically/naturally. I’ve talked about this before, however, I think it’s worth repeating. When I have been able to move more fluidly through life without little planning, I have been pleasantly surprised. Amazing things happen when you open yourself up to possibilities. It seems so simple when I type the words. The truth is that for some, it is extremely difficult. I have been known to actually plan what time of the day I will plan — that’s right, I will make an entry on my calendar at the 9:15 a.m. slot, that states, “make a to do list for the next week.” It’s going a bit too far I’d say.

Perspective can be gained by allowing oneself to think freely and move through the day without directing every action. In other other words, allowing yourself to just be.

 

A Strange, but honest side note:  I just returned from Seville, Spain. Seville is a little over two hours from my home in Faro. When I decided to move to Portugal, I had no idea I was so close to Seville. I had been there about 15 years ago and I had a not-so-great experience; I won’t go into the details here. I had the occasion to return to Seville a few months ago and I fell in love with the city. It is rich in culture, authentic, rich in history, there are many modern restaurants worthy of trying, it is clean, friendly, fairly easy to navigate, and not at all pricey. Spain is a progressive country that embraces all people. Being gay in Spain is not at all an issue and that is not true of every city.

The reason I started this note by writing that this entry would be strange, is this:  I don’t want to blog about where I eat when I’m there (although I have made mention of a place in a previous blog), where I stay, the places I visit, etc. I do post on Instagram if you’re interested. I want Seville to be a quick getaway for me. It’s sort of my second home. I want to just enjoy all that it has to offer and I have decided to be selfish and keep most of it to myself. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in going. I would be happy to share privately with those who are truly interested. I make no apologies for this.

 

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I met this wide-eyed little boy on a bus to Loulé last Friday. It occurred to me that all he wanted was to make a connection. Had I not been open to interaction with another human being, I would have missed out on the innocence of this beautiful child.

 

 

The Afternoon I Went to Bed Certain I Would Not Wake Up

Many have shared their personal drug experiences, however, mine is particular to me. This piece is not 100% inclusive. The two I haven chosen to share are my first and my worst experiences. My hope is that my readers will recognize and heed the dangers of certain types of drug use. You may have to stay with me a bit before I get to the lead; my apologies, I’ll get there eventually.

shallow focus photography of cannabis plant
Photo by Michael Fischer on Pexels.com

 

I was that rare college freshman that didn’t smoke cigarettes or pot, didn’t drink alcohol, and had never tried illegal substances. If someone had shown me marijuana, I’m not sure I could have identified what it was. It had nothing to do with religion or parenting, in truth, as a child, I had never been exposed to marijuana or any other non-prescription drug. I had no idea how sheltered from “real” life I had been and then I moved into a dormitory (residence hall is the proper nomenclature).

There was so much pot in my dorm, I’m certain that I must of had a residual high fairly often. I was somewhat idealistic back then; convinced that if I smoked pot on Friday night, I would be taking acid trips by Sunday. I chose to stay away from drugs altogether, that is until I met Kim and Nancy. Kim and Nancy were Nursing students in their senior year at UNCC. They had posted an ad looking for a third roommate and by my sophomore year, I hated living in a dorm. I liked Kim and Nancy and they were offering the largest of three bedrooms in an apartment complex that had an outdoor pool. Certain that I had struck gold, I moved in. I have very fond memories of sitting around in the evening in front of the television watching silly comedies; reliving Kim and Nancy’s dating stories and horrors. They often rolled a joint or two and I would always take a pass when they offered.

This went on for months, but I was a bit curious about what it might feel like to be high. You never forget the first time and the first time was quite the event. I was pretty sick with the flu one night during an evening in front of the television. Nancy was practicing her nursing skills on me and frankly, I was happy to give in to her mothering. I was curled up in a quilt feeling achy and coughing my brains out. Kim was not quite as maternal; however, she was famous for claiming that pot was the remedy for just about any illness. She must have offered to roll me a joint six or seven times that night, before I finally caved. I figured that I was mature enough not to allow a couple of tokes to lead to drug addiction. Minutes later I was hallucinating. I’m still not sure whether it was the high fever or the pot, but I imagined two guys living behind my eyeballs conversing with one another about what was happening in my brain. It was surreal, strange and scary; I didn’t go near that shit again for years.

Fast forward to me in my early thirties. I was living in Manhattan, newly divorced from my wife, completely out of the closet, and fairly tired of my ho-hum existence. A new friend told me about a beach house rental share on Fire Island outside of New York City. I finally had some money in my pocket and the desire to live a little . . . perhaps live a lot. It was there that I made a friend whom I will not name. He was not like anyone I had ever met:  he was a little more than 10 years older than me, he was smart, creative, and we really hit it off.

Our friendship led me to one of the wildest nights of my life; hence the title of this piece (I told you I’d eventually get to it). We would sit around at the beach house talking about the old Saint parties in Manhattan’s disco heyday. I was living in North Carolina when these parties took place, but they were legendary. Apparently, there was lots of drugs and other illegal activities. I learned that although the Saint no longer existed, Saint-at-large parties were scheduled several times throughout the year. My interest in experiencing one of these parties peaked and this was the friend who would make it happen for me. I was assured that my drug intake would be minimal and that he would be by my side the entire evening and for the most part, he was. The plan was to get a good night sleep and go to Roseland — the club where the party happened — at 4:00 a.m.

I’m not sure I can convey my excitement. I didn’t eat for a month so that I would be lean, I visited the gym more often than usual, and I shopped for dancing clothes; tight jeans and a muscle-tee. By the time the party came around I was primed and ready for the night of my life. My newfound freedom and sense of adventure had me thinking that anything was possible. I remember trying to take a disco nap, but I was way too excited to sleep. I was showered shaved and dressed by 1:00 a.m. and I had to sit in my apartment on the upper East side and just wait for 3:30 a.m. to come. I took a taxi to the club because I wasn’t sure what the subways would be like at that hour. When I arrived, I saw my friend standing by the club entrance. We embraced and we verbally and physically expressed our anticipated wild night.

I recall a long line at the coat check counter. I believe most people were retrieving their coats, as opposed to checking them. While we were on the line, my friend whispered that he had lost the drugs which were stuffed in his socks. My heart skipped three beats. My dream of dancing the night away was about to be shattered. We retraced our steps in this large, very dark lobby and there they were, on the floor, in the middle of this massive open space. I still can’t believe they were just sitting there in a small see-through plastic bag, for all the world to see. My friend grabbed the bag, high-fived me and we joyfully checked our coats. The plan was to take a tour of the club, purchase some bottled water and take the first of the party drugs in our stash. I had always believed in the importance of having mentors; people in your life who hold your hand and show you the way. Early on, I was very naive and afraid of many things — mostly because I didn’t know much about this world others experienced while most of us slept.

We toured the club with wide eyes. There were multiple levels, several different types of party music, a VIP lounge you could only peek into, and lots of half-naked men. I can still recall a short blast of chilly air each time the front and back doors opened. It was as if I was having the most vivid dream of my life; it was surreal and sublime and scary, all at the same time and I was loving every minute of it. At some point toward the end of our walkabout, my friend turned to me, handed me water and a small white pill and said,

“Take this baby cakes, and drink. Remember to hydrate throughout the night.”

I know for some, this is sounding enticing, but trust me, the worst of it is still to come.

This next part is a bit blurry, but I’ll attempt to lay it out for you. The ecstasy I had taken kicked in at some point and I was feeling pretty happy.  While I was dancing, I saw someone I knew about 20 feet away on the dance floor. I told my friend that I’d be back and he said,

“I’m not leaving this spot. Come right back; I’ll be waiting.”

I found myself dancing with this friend and his friends and it was a blast. I noticed them passing a small vial and holding it up to their noses. One of them put it under my nose and motioned me to take it in; I was curious and stupid and did as I was told. I assumed it was coke, but at that point I was very high and didn’t care. Minutes later I found myself in the middle of this massive dance floor — honestly if was half a football field — and I did not recognize anyone around me. I asked someone where the restroom was and he pointed. Hoping to soon reunite with my friend, I joined a long line of men and several women, thinking that if I didn’t get to a urinal soon, I as going to wet my pants.

It took awhile, but I was finally standing in front of a urinal and to my surprise, it spoke to me. I can’t remember what the urinal said, but I can tell you it frightened me. It may sound funny, but trust me it was not. I later learned that I had done crystal meth, a very dangerous drug. It’s actually a tranquilizer used as a sedative for horses; strong to say the least. I glanced in the mirror on my way out of the restroom and my face looked distorted — I was paranoid and terrified. I went back to the dance floor to find my friend, but he was not to be found. It felt like I was going in circles; I kept seeing the same faces on the dance floor. I began to panic and moments later, my friend grabbed my arm and pulled me out onto the floor. He gave me water and rubbed my shoulders. He told me to keep moving. I quickly calmed down; I closed my eyes and just felt the music move through my body.

The club was dark and the music was extremely loud and time appeared to be at a standstill, except of course that it wasn’t. At some point I looked over and my friend was dancing by himself and the dance floor around him was empty. I walked over and asked where all the people had gone. He replied, “Dear one, it’s 11:00 a.m.; they’ve all gone home.” We decided not to close the club down and headed for the coat check. My legs felt like they were weighted down with dumbbells and my mouth was extremely dry. I purchased water on the way out and drank an entire bottle before we got to the exit. The doors opened and daylight flooded in. I’m not sure why, but I was shocked that morning had come; the bright sunlight hurt my eyes.

I was glad to find my sunglasses in my coat pocket and although it was very cold outside, I was warm and fairly alert. We headed toward the subway and parted at the station; I was headed to the upper east side and my friend lived on the upper west side. I could not remove my sunglasses on the subway because the light was too bright for my eyes and I did not want to be seen. I sat in the corner of the subway car, slouched and paranoid, vowing that I would never do this again.

When I arrived home to my apartment I realized that my heart was beating rapidly and my mind was racing. I had an overwhelming feeling that I was going to die. I had never felt this way before and I was pretty sure I was overdosing. I was resigned to my fate. I started to clean the apartment so that when I was found, my apartment would be spotless. It’s difficult to understand why cleanliness mattered, but in fact, it was my reality at the time. I must have cleaned for several hours, thinking that at some point I would just collapse. I looked at the clock and it was 4:00 p.m. and it had been over 30 hours since I had any sleep. I showered, put on a tee-shirt and my underwear and crawled into bed. Before closing my eyes my last thought was this:  my life has been full and I have been fortunate. I will not wake from this sleep, but that’s okay, I have lived a good life — I swear this is true.

I did not die that day. I did, however, learn a valuable life lesson about the taking of unknown drugs. I was one of the lucky ones. Many, many have been in a similar situation and perished. I don’t believe I am being overly dramatic. I knowingly took a drug without knowing what it was. The friend I bumped into on the dance floor must have thought I knew what I was doing; he was not to blame.

Something like this never happened again and I plan to keep it that way.

 

 

 

 

Owning Your Own Business Versus Working for Someone Else

 

 

Having worked for several companies/universities and then owning my own small business, I have had some time to reflect on my career and the choices I made.  Although I would not call myself a career expert, I have learned some valuable lessons along the way. There are times in life when we have the luxury of choice and there are times when we do things out of necessity. Planning is key so that you have more control over your direction and the outcome.

 

While You’re in College

I recall being in a panic during my second semester in college because I had decided to major in Sociology after an amazing Intro class. What will I do with a sociology degree was all-consuming. Keep in mind the internet did not exist back then. I spoke to people, canvassed my professors, and searched my soul, but after months of panic, nothing resonated for me. Then one day while working on campus my, I saw a poster on a bulletin board and the title was:  100 Careers with a Sociology degree; I was elated to say the least. I thought about stealing the poster but my conscience  got the better of me. I jotted down a number of career titles that seemed possible. I then set out to learn more about each of them.

At this point in my life, working for myself would never have been an option; I was lazy and unmotivated and way too insecure. My thinking was conventional and my dreams lacked possibilities. I mostly thought that I’d be lucky to finish college. I also wondered if anyone would ever hire me. Most of my college friends were far worse off in that they were even lazier. My parents were blue-collar and the word “career” had little meaning for them. Times have changed . . .I think.

Young people today seem to be much more aware of their options; I would even venture to say that many are fearless. People no longer think in terms of one job/one career. Moving from one job to the next is more the norm than the exception. I dare say that many young people today have their parents to fall back on. There are stats pointing to many living at home with their parents well into their late 20s and early 30s.

Endless number of resources on the internet:

Pros and Cons list (click)

Reasons to Run Your Own Business (click)

 

Out-of-the-Gate

I read and hear stories about young entrepreneurs starting their own business either while still in college or right out of college. I imagine some of these kids do it without even thinking too much about it. The world has changed and technology of course has everything to do with it. The absence of bricks and mortar make start-up costs far more affordable for tech entrepreneurs with a good idea. There is a lot to consider when starting your own business; I will share some of my own experiences later in this blog.

 

Your First Position

In my day, your first position was incredibly important. Where you worked and for how long mattered a great deal. Staying in one place for a few years was very important for resume building and to show stability. I’m not sure this is true anymore. I think it is more the norm to try new things and then move on to the next new thing. There was a time when individuals might work for the same company for 30 or 40 years; this is hardly the case these days. One big problem that I can see when considering changing jobs often, are the raises and promotions one might receive by proving oneself valuable to a company.

One of today’s considerations is that many of today’s businesses appear to have a revolving door policy:  once an employee begins to become too expensive, companies often let them go and hire another employee at a lesser salary. This issue makes stability more difficult and mobility more prevalent. When you’re starting a family or caring for aging parents, moving from one city to another may be difficult — as I stated earlier, so much to consider.

I am a list-maker and I find it helpful to jot down all of the variables. What are your wishes, hopes, and dreams? What in your life is non-negotiable? Where do you want to live? What are your salary requirements? Is longevity important to you? Do you have a five-year plan? Can you put money into savings and/or a retirement plan (never too early to consider building retirement savings).

 

Owning Your Own Business

I had no choice but to start my own business. I was a high earner in New York and when I left to start a new life in Maine, I had a difficult time getting my foot in the door. I managed to convince a couple of big companies to interview me; however, as time went on, it became clear that I would probably not acquire the position I hoped for. I had a number of things working against me:

  • I became too expensive for most companies
  • Employers were afraid of offering me a job at a lesser salary, fearing that I would not stay long (they told me so). Career advisors told me to omit high level positions from my resume; something I just could not or would not do.
  • When you’re over fifty you become high risk for companies offering insurance benefits. Older hires can raise premiums significantly.
  • Many of the HR individuals doing the interviewing were in their 30s and 40s and could not relate to an older candidate.
  • Ageism is alive and well in the United States.

I experienced one road block after another until I finally gave in and decided to start a consulting business. I thought that my expertise in hospitality could be an asset in a city that had a reputation for great food in a magnificent seaside setting (frankly the reason I relocated to Portland, Maine). Starting a business these days is not easy. After developing a business plan, developing a website was my next greatest challenge:  cost, content, credibility, target markets, and time, were all major considerations. I had some savings put aside for survival in my new city and decided to put some resources toward my new venture. I was fortunate to find a graphics design students who was developing websites part-time. She was smart, talented, and her youthful outlook was exactly what I needed to offset my “older” perspective.

I never kidded myself about my age and what I knew and didn’t know. I bartered with my first few clients. I needed endorsements and a client list in order to garner any credibility in the crowded field of consultants. Initially, several businesses were very kind to me and open to giving me a chance. I learned some valuable lessons along the way:

  • Don’t expect to make any money your first year (your expenses will outweigh your income).
  • Keep track of every expense — tax deductions will become extremely important
  •  Be generous with your time and budget. I offered the first hour of consulting free and that turned out to be the cornerstone of my early success.
  • Find other ways to supplement your income while you’re building your business. At one point I had three part-time jobs. All three were ways of meeting new people, attracting potential clients, and providing a distraction from the hardship of a start-up.
  • Be careful not to burn out. I rewarded myself with some travel and nice dinners after each new client was signed on.
  • Make sure your fees are competitive and fair. Offer clients an out and stand by your accomplishments. Don’t give away the farm; what you are offering is valuable.
  • Your network is larger than you might imagine. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Consider how much you help others and the joy that it brings you. Others will want to do the same for you.

 

Our Changing World

I voluntarily left a position when I was 54 years old thinking that with my education and experience, I was highly marketable; was I ever wrong. The world changed in the blink of an eye and I was so busy living life, I didn’t see what was happening in front of my face. We all grow up in a certain time and place where norms guide us. Change has always been a constant; however, today change is more rapid than it has historically ever been. Keeping up with change is an almost impossible challenge, but try you must or you will be left wondering why you didn’t. Never assume you know enough. Never assume that everyone around you has integrity. Be hyper aware without being cynical. Do your homework, ask a lot of questions, and keep up with technology.

Sometimes I have so much going on in my head and so much information coming at me, it feels like my brain is about to explode. I have learned how to store information on my laptop so that I don’t have to keep it in my head. Freeing up space in your mind will make it easier to allow new thoughts and knowledge to flow in. Meditation was a big part of my work life. I would close the door and free my mind of all distractions. This 10 to 20 minute almost daily practice would help me to gain perspective. Above all else be grateful that you get to choose. And never forget to thank those around you who have helped you succeed. Often we say thank you when it is too late. No matter how smart you or how resourceful you might be, you more than likely have cheerleaders:  spiritual, emotional, and caring support and guidance that helps you navigate this changing world. Be gracious and grateful and good things will continue to come your way.

 

Follow Your Heart and the Money Will Come

Life is all about choices. When choosing working for someone else or having your own business, remember that decisions are often not etched in stone. Trying out an idea or pursuing a dream, doesn’t mean that you will be in it for life. Our fear of the unknown can be so strong it stifles us. Money complicates matters further. You know all the questions you ask yourself:  Will I make enough to live on? Can I afford to send my children to college? Will I have enough for retirement. The questions can be overwhelming.

person writing calligraphy style quote on table
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

Where Your Career Takes You

People often think that owning your own business means that you no longer have to answer to “the man.” In truth, no matter what you do to earn money, you will always have to answer to someone. Restaurant owners answer to their customers/clients, as do plumbers, CPAs, lawyers, real estate brokers and so on.When you become successful and no longer have to be hyper concerned about earnings, you might be able to pick and choose your clients. I know very few business owners who can truthfully claim this position. Most business owners are beholden to their clients and in some ways, this can be even more stressful that working for someone else. When you’re an employee, because you do not own the business, you are usually not ultimately responsible for the business. You can always be held accountable; however, legally, the business owner(s) is responsible. You can be terminated, but it would be rare for an employee to be financially libel (there are of course exceptions). Most business owners carry insurance which should or could cover you up to a certain limit. It’s a good thing to look into before starting a position.

Big Lesson:  If you go into business in order to escape working for someone else, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

 

Pointers Along the Way

  • Stay true to yourself
  • Weigh the pros and cons (make lists)
  • Talk to people who have taken different paths
  • Keep an open mind
  • Consider your partner
  • When do you want to start or family?
  • Consider the lives of your children
  • Have short-term and long-term goals
  • Save and start a retirement plan early on
  • Remember to enjoy yourself
  • Be prepared for curve balls
  • When you own your own business, you could easily end up working very long hours. It’s a good idea to plan your work day and try to stay on a schedule.
  • Go on vacation; take time off

 

Last Words

One of my favorite questions is:

If you could do it over again, what would you change?

When I look at the decisions and choices I have made, I realize that although I did not love every job I have had, all of my life experiences seem to have led me to where I am today. Often we have no idea where a decision will take us; will it be the “right” job? Will I make a lot of money? Will it lead to a promotion? Will I like the people I work with? You can do a great deal of research and talk to many people about a company or business, but you cannot ever predict the future. So many things can happen along the way to determine an outcome. This is why it is often best to go with what you feel in your gut. If you have a support group around you and you work hard, you can weather just about any storm. Character building is just as important as career building.

One thing I might have changed was my appetite for risk taking. I’ve realized that times in my life when I threw caution to the wind, I had some positive results. I learned more about myself, I was prideful about the outcome, and I was often pleasantly surprised with the results. I was able to retire when I was 58 years old because I did a lot of planning. For me, leisure time, travel, exploration and enjoying every minute I have on this planet, have been my top priorities. Keeping your eye on the prize is essential for reaching your goals. Be flexible, be realistic, be daring, and be happy and as the experts say, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”

A number of you own your own business or may have thoughts about the topic. It would be great to hear your perspective.

 

What is Love?

Better yet . . . what is love to me?

“He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” -Benjamin Franklin

 

 

 

I’ve blogged about friendship, fear, loss, sexuality and so on, and so I thought that it is time for love. Must be all this talk of Valentine’s Day, although it’s not quite as commercial here in Portugal. Maybe it is and I’m just not aware of it.

Who am I to speak of love? I ask myself this question because I have had several failed relationships over the past 40 years. Perhaps that makes me as qualified as anyone else to pontificate on love. It is essential to question and examine; searching for answers that will help us to better understand ourselves and the world we live in.

 

How do I know that I am capable of loving?

This may seem like an odd question, but it’s important for me to begin by acknowledging (to myself) that I am certain that I have loved and that I continue to love deeply. My earliest memory of a love that was extremely intense and painful, was a childhood memory. I was in first grade, so I believe I was seven years old. My father was taking a month-long trip to Italy, his birthplace, to see his family living in Bisceglie. He had never travelled overseas and he had never been away overnight.

Bisceglie, Puglia

 

In my mind, Bisceglie was far, far away, and dad was going on an airplane and he’d probably never come back. Where these thoughts came from, I haven’t a clue. I vividly remember missing him badly and praying for his safe return. This felt very much like love. It was a love so strong it remains with me today and probably will until the day I die — I think of my father daily. Admittedly, I never felt this same love for my mother. I did love my mother, however, not with the same intensity.

I use that experience as my “love barometer” and I can say honestly that I only feel that kind of love for a handful of people and Giorgio, my pet whom I lost a few months ago.

About Bisceglie:  I’ve never been. I want to go, but I have always said that I would experience my father’s birthplace with the person I intend to spend my life with. I think it’s time to let go of that notion and just go. I believe it will be an important journey.

 

When was the first time I felt love?

I was four years old and I remember my sister AnnMarie crawling into my twin bed. She was 11 years old at the time. She whispered “I love you” in my ear and I purred like a kitten; a feeling of love washed over me and I said, I love you too.

I believe I remember this particular moment because AnnMarie was a substitute mother to me when I was a child; she took very good care of me; I was her doll. Perhaps I am mistaking nurturing for love? Something tells me the two go hand-in-hand.

 

Can you teach people how to love?

I imagine this question has been asked since humankind recognized love and gave it a name. Love seems to be one of the characteristics we share with the rest of the animal kingdom. I’ve witnessed it in so many different ways in many different species. The love for a parent, a sibling, a friend and for others of our own species. We express this love in many ways and we do things, good and bad things, as a result of feeling love.

It appears that forces exist that attempt, successfully or unsuccessfully, to destroy our ability to love. I would say that we are all born with that innate ability; however, human beings sometimes, for whatever reason, attempt to destroy another human being’s ability or desire to love — it is the root of so many of our problems.

I have also observed that some individuals seem to be born with the great gift of a heart that is so full they inspire others to open up their own hearts. Love can grow larger just as easily as it can be extinguished. We can doubt, question, betray, harm, and walk away from love; this appears to be a trait that separates us from other animals.

 

The difference between loving someone and making love

I have never believed that sex and love are the same thing. Sex is an instinctual behavior. All animals have sex or seek sex with one another. I assume it all started as a way to procreate and then morphed into a pleasurable act. I won’t go into all that here; this is a blog about love. I do believe that sex is one way of expressing one’s love for another, but obviously love and sex are not mutually exclusive. I believe it’s dangerous to mix the two things up. Doing so has certainly created problems for me in the past.

 

How love changes as you age

Perhaps love doesn’t change as you age, but what does change is your understanding of love and your appreciation for love. I have become cautious and fearful. Opening myself up to love someone deeply:  something I’m working on; I have a long list.

 

The joy love brings

It was only a few months ago that I lost my dog Giorgio. When I think about unconditional love, it is Giorgio that comes to mind. I am skeptical when it comes to human beings loving one another unconditionally; I may have to be convinced. I’m fairly certain that no one has ever loved me the way Giorgio loved me. I was his human. I have come to realize that only those who have had a devoted pet truly understand the bond between an animal and a human. I know it’s not just because I fed him and took care of him. It’s unlike any other love that exists and I am forever grateful for having experienced that love at least three times in my life. I’m hoping I get to have it again someday.

 

Image may contain: people sitting, dog and indoor
Giorgio posing for my friend Mauro Fermariello, an Italian Photographer. So grateful Mauro captured Giorgio for me — this was a beautiful gift I will always cherish.

Scientific proof (link)

 

The Ultimate Love

I’m not sure where I heard it first, but I think Ru Paul says it best,

“If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

When I first heard this notion of loving yourself I thought it was rubbish and I dismissed it without much thought for a long time. Then in my mid-thirties, I was sitting with my therapist and she said, “Do you love yourself?” My immediate thought was I need to find a new therapist and then I realized how much I liked her and I seriously considered her question.

In order to answer truthfully I had to spend the entire week prior to my next session pondering her question. I returned the following week and told her that I unfortunately did not like myself very much. I figured out that this is how therapists get you to stay in therapy longer — it was a hook. I jest, she convinced me to consider where this was coming from and why. I could easily blame it on my mother; she gave me permission to do so when I told her I was seeing a therapist. It would be too easy to do that so I decided to try to alter my thinking. My therapist told me that I should look in the mirror and say, I love you.” I laughed about that for weeks and then I tried it one day. It was admittedly one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. Oh, I could say it easily, but not without laughing in my own face.

I made a conscious decision to say it to myself before falling asleep at night and to mention it in passing to myself at various times of the day — out loud by the way. After a while, like anything else, it got easier and I actually started believing it. I would buy myself flowers at the farmer’s market, put them in a vase and present them to myself with, “I love you Christopher.” Why is it so easy to do this for someone else, but so difficult for ourselves.

The newly enlightened me does it all the time now. I take myself to dinner, buy myself plane tickets, shop for new clothes and each time, I remind myself that I am giving myself a gift and a big hug. It no longer feels awkward or weird; it feels natural. The added benefit is this:

When  you love someone you want all good things for them. You want them to be healthy and happy and to feel appreciated. When you love yourself, you want all of those things for yourself. You begin to live a healthier lifestyle for the sole purpose of feeling good for yourself. And people notice this about you. They smile and say things like, “It’s great to see you so happy,” or “You look terrific,” or even better, they stop expecting you to have another person to complete you. They actually recognize that you can be happy and single at the same time. I came to this realization not too long ago and it is hands down one of the greatest life lessons I have learned. There are many more lessons to learn; however, the ability to love myself and forgive myself, makes everything else just a little easier.

 

 

 

What Does Happy Look Like?

[I’m traveling tomorrow, so I decided to publish this week’s blog early. Sunday, February 3rd’s blog will be all about the Canary Islands.]

 

 

 

Thoughts about happiness has been occupying a great deal of my time lately. I’ve been taking stock of my life and wondering the following:

  1. Am I happy?
  2. What makes me happy?
  3. What do I need to do to be happier?
  4. Is it okay to settle for happy moments versus overall happiness?
  5. Are my expectations reasonable? Why or why not?
  6. How do I assess my own happiness?
  7. Do others interfere with my happiness?
  8. Do I make myself unhappy?
  9. What does being happy feel like?
  10. What were the happiest times of my life?
  11. Who makes me happy?
  12. Why does being happy matter?

I’m not going to go through these questions and answer them one by one. I am instead demonstrating where my head is at this stage of my life and how might create my own present and future. I’ll be sixty in a few months and whether I like it or not, age factors into my happiness. It’s a milestone that forces you to take inventory and consider your future.

There are ways to address this milestone that may be helpful. The following topics will be tackled in order of importance in my life at this time in my life:

Health

Health is a difficult reality. On one hand I want to life as healthy a life as possible so that I can enjoy a good quality of life; on the other hand there are many choices that I make that bring me joy, however, these choices have a negative impact on my health. For example, my daily 5:00 p.m. cocktail. I usually only have one and I know that by itself, that is not a bad thing, but there are a couple of other considerations:  1) the cocktail contains empty calories with no nutritional value, 2) when I’m with friends, I will give myself permission to have more than one, and 3) I also have a glass (or two) of wine with dinner. I am not an alcoholic and I don’t drink to get drunk. Still, I know that I would probably drop a few pounds if I stopped drinking. Truth is I enjoy that time of day when I relax and have a drink and I enjoy the taste of the cocktail or wine. I have made the conscious decision to continue drinking and monitor my intake; try my best to keep it at two or three portions a night. I have a very similar relationship with food, which also brings provides for a good deal of my happiness. Most of what I eat is fresh, healthy and delicious; however, there is that ten percent of my diet that I know is unhealthy. Again, one has to know oneself and choose wisely. And get a regular check-up to be certain that your body can tolerate certain things.

Note:  It doesn’t help that two of my dearest married friends had cocktails at 5:00 p.m. and ate what ever they wanted and had/have very healthy and long lives. One of them just recently passed away at age 95 and the other is alive and healthy at 90. Of course I know that everyone has a different genetic make-up and many, many other factors contribute to a long and healthy life.

I have always said that I’d rather live to be 80 and enjoy the bounty of life, then live to be 90 and deny myself much of what I truly love. This lifestyle choice doesn’t work for everyone. I am happy to say that I am almost 60 years old and medication free. I workout five days a week and only suffer the normal aches and pains that come with aging.

It’s odd how little we talk about our own path. We usually talk about other people and their habits or we generalize about society as a whole. It seems that people are either ashamed of their choices or choose to hide them. I wrote about my drinking habits this week in hopes of getting feedback from my readers. Am I kidding myself? Do my habits seem healthy? Unhealthy?

Home

The first view is the backside of my apartment and it represents my morning view. This morning, I watched the lunar eclipse. I have a clear view of Faro, the mountains and the morning moon. This view inspires me and reminds me that I am alive and that each day is a new and different day. The morning light is filled with color and most of the year I can watch the sunrise from my terrace. I also have a magnificent view of the Ria Formosa. The Ria is every changing and dynamic.

The second view is just after the sun has set in the evening. This view is facing southwest from the front of my apartment. This view represents the quiet of the evening — soft, diffused light

 

 

 

Front views at different times of the day:

 

There is a spot in my dining room where I can see both views. Depending on the time of day, every view is different and new. It’s like slowly moving still photographs marking time. I stand in this spot at least once a day to marvel at the light and color.

Family

Family can complicate happiness. I love my family dearly and my happiness is all wrapped up in their happiness. I constantly consider the amount of control or the lack of control I possess related to their happiness. I can make my sister laugh or buy my brother a nice present; I can spend hours on the phone with my niece listening to her talk about esoteric adventures; I can daydream about how my mom would take us shopping as children, pass an underwear bin, grab a pair and put it over her head; and I spend a day remembering my three siblings who have left us, whose memories lift me up almost daily. What it all adds up to is how my family takes my happiness to a higher level. Without them I would be happy; however, not nearly as happy.

Friends

Good, good friends know when you are unhappy; they know it before you do. My friends question my emotional state of mind on a regular basis. My mind is always churning and when that’s happening I don’t always smile. When I’m not smiling, my friends get concerned and I have to reassure them that everything is okay. There are times when I am not happy — for my good friends, that’s okay.

I consider my good friends, my family. No doubt my good friends make me happy. Sometimes they make me sad, but I realize that peaks and valleys are a normal part of life.

Plans:  Travel, Entertainment, Dining and Adventure

Making plans and executing them is all about creating memories. I read an anonymous quote many years ago that went something like this:

“We don’t remember days, we remember moments.”

Those words stuck with me and I have always tried to create moments or cement moments into my memory. Like the time I was mountain biking through a dense wooded area in Mexico. For a few moments I felt as free as a bird and more alive than I had ever felt in my life. It was exhilarating, I remember this happy moment as if it happened yesterday. I have many moments like this one and I recall these moments frequently.

Since arriving in Portugal, I have been creating these moments on an almost daily basis.

The Future:  Goals and Aspirations

I have come to realize that no matter how hard I try, there are certain “life concerns” that occupy my mind. When I’m in total control, rested, and have plans for the near future, I can keep these concerns in check and focus on my positive future plans. I also know that there are times when no amount of positive thinking or intervention by friends or family, can help put me in a happy place. When this happens I make myself as comfortable as possible and allow my thoughts to organically flow. The unhappy stuff usually passes pretty quickly when I allow myself to just feel or think whatever it is I’m feeling or thinking. I’ve learned that fighting my natural inclinations only makes me more anxious — know thyself.

I have fewer aspirations today then I had when I was younger. I can live with that.

 

A Funny thing happened on the way home:

My friend Susan is visiting from Maine for a few days. Unlike most of my friends, she reads my blog (as Bianca del Rio would say, “I ain’t mad”). So we were on a train to Tavira and I was talking about what I needed to include in this week’s “happiness” blog.

“I need to remember to make a note about how happiness directly correlates with being grateful, in my blog.”

We talked about how fortunate I am to be living this abundant life in Portugal. Not long after this conversation, we were sitting in the backseat of an Uber and the driver took us through a section of Faro I had never seen. The driver was surprised to learn that I live in Faro. She looked back at us in the review mirror and said,

“Faro is a happy place.”

What more can I say.