Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chris’s Apocalyptic Goals, and the End of Nathan’s World as He Knows It (and I Feel Fine)

by chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

Nathan spoke about his goals for the coming year in his last post, so I figured that I needed to write mine out… mostly because I need a post for today. Ok, I’ll stop being flippant about it, but the truth of the matter is that I’m not sure what goals I have for the coming apocalypse. The usual suspects are there: writing, writing, organizing, and writing. The problem comes in the form of what I should change and not change about my current situation. Like how many hours should I work per week this year, and doing what?

Let’s start by talking smack about Nathan’s goals behind his back. I’m reasonably sure he doesn’t read this blog. Hi, Nathan. The main reason to talk about Nathan’s goals first is because even though we haven’t made group goals yet, we do have one goal in common, listed right at the start of his post: Painting his house.

Wait? That’s not it. Must be the next one: Leveling his house. Oh wait: Working on his mom’s rent house. Um, oh: Selling one of the VW Beetles. It’s around here somewhere: The Anime model business. Nope: Reading Robotech. Hmm: “The biggest thing in 2012 is of course my debt pay down.”

Whoomp there it is! Well, it’s not the first thing, but it’s the biggest thing. To be fair, he said nothing about order of importance. The only reason I bring this up is because I think it ties in to what really should be both Nathan’s and my primary goal for the year: Stepping out of our comfort zones.

I’ve talked about this often. And I do realize that it’s not for everyone. But the fact of the matter is that I think that part of setting goals is to plan to do something that is not something you would do normally. Many of Nathan’s goals (and even my own goals are but in a different way) are things that if he had no written goals, he would probably get around to doing anyway. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s a good way to keep organized, and most of your goals should be created based on what you want to do. But there is another side to this.

The truth of the matter is that there are things we all want to do that are out of our comfort zone, and these things don’t get fair and equal representation on our goal list. Sometimes there’s a good reason why they don’t. For instance, I wish to one day participate in a demolition derby, but if I put that goal before everything else just to get it off my list, I’m not really using my time wisely. That’s one of those goals that shouldn’t be on my list until I’m making enough money to live off of, while doing work that I enjoy.

But the way that we think as humans, if someone approached me one day and said, “Hey, I need a driver for a demolition derby, and it will only cost you the price of the car to destroy,” the fact of the matter is that I would rationalize why it is that I should put writing my second novel on hold to find a good destroyable car, so that I could get that goal off my list. The problem is that it wouldn’t be the right choice. Not really.

Am I saying that Nathan’s goals are wrong? Am I saying that putting home improvement projects, which he’d do even if he had no written goals, is a bad idea unless he also puts something like getting out of debt on there too? No. What I am saying is that one is going to push Nathan out of his comfort zone, and one is going to keep him firmly lodged in his comfort zone. Any guesses as to which is which?

Let’s look at this quote from Nathan about our difference in opinion about how he should handle his debt:

“My immediate plan is to pay off credit cards and Chris’ plan is to pay off everything but I am not so sure about that. I don’t want to drive my life into the ground for that.”

What he’s referring to is the fact that I discussed going after all of his debt while we were at it. I had a Scorched Earth tactic that would actually get rid of all of his debt in the course of a year, with a few casualties. In my extreme scenario, he would work practically nonstop, and his house and cars would be sold by year’s end. One can see why one might call that driving his life into the ground. My point was simply that it could be done if a person was willing to take enough steps outside of the comfort zone.

What I hope Nathan realizes is that the plan I came up with when I came over about a month ago was a scaled back plan based on the fact that he only wants to get rid of the credit card debt by the end of the year. The plan was to pay $1,000 a week against his credit card debt. I’m sure he has to realize that for the next year, his life is still pretty much driven into the ground if he’s willing to do this, because he has to put the novel before the demolition derby if he’s going to even accomplish this much of his debt payoff. I can only suggest what he should do. I can’t make him do it.

What I’m saying here is that Nathan wants two things from the following year. One is to finish upgrading his house and one is to get rid of his upwards of $7,000 a year in interest payments. Imagine how much home upgrading he could do with $7,000 a year, or even the $3,000 a year that’s specifically interest on credit cards. Do you see my point?

The way that Nathan needs to run his goals in order to achieve them both is going to require that he resist the temptation to go out of order (for instance, let’s say he wanted to replace his carpet and linoleum, and applied for a credit card to afford it). In other words, he will need to throw $4,000 every two paychecks at his debt, and then live off the rest, because the credit cards don’t go completely away unless he does this. Then if he has enough money to do house upgrading from the extra money he makes doing on call, then he can do the upgrading.

The moment that he says, “Well, I’ll only pay $800 this week so I can paint the back of the house.” And then says, “I’ll only pay $800 this week because I need to do some weatherproofing.” And then says, “I’ll only pay $800 this week because I’m tired of being on call.” And then says, “I’ll only pay $800 this week because my wife has pointed out that I’m still spending money, and that I can short the debt repayment by $200 this week to buy her something.” Next thing you know, Nathan has shorted his goal by a little over $10,000.

Sure, in that scenario, he did well all things considered, but he didn’t accomplish the goal outside of his comfort zone in favour of the goal inside the comfort zone. And my example is if he’s still willing to part with $3,200 every four weeks, which may still be a bit far out of his comfort zone to happen if he prioritizes anything else that costs money over the debt repayment.

And let’s be clear, it doesn’t count if you pay off $52,000 in credit card debt if you get a $20,000 home equity line of credit for repairs, rack up $15,000 in student loans, get various new household appliances on rent to own, and rollover a current car loan into a bigger car loan for a newer car. If you’re starting with $137,000 in total debt, and you pay off $52,000 in credit card debt, you should have only $85,000 in total debt at the end of the year. Saying, “I may still have $120,000 in debt, but none of it is credit cards,” just isn’t fair representation of the goal.

It might seem like I’m picking on Nathan, but this does apply to me as well. I’m used to living on little money, so I’ve already started living on $800 a month (which is only possible because my dad pays my rent, and is not counting money paid out in income taxes and child support before I get my check). I would be better to step out of my comfort zone and look for a better paying job, whether I believe there is one out there or not. I still plan on living on $800 a month for the whole year of 2012, regardless of what I make, and regardless of what I want. I will save an emergency fund, and then I will start going after my own debt.

I don’t have a comparable plan for getting rid of my debt in a year. If something occurs to me I will certainly try. That was why I was suggesting that Nathan try that route, as opposed to just going after a small portion (though admittedly highest interest) of his debt. Yep, what is under the umbrella of credit card debt is only approximately 37% of his debt (based on the figures I remember). It just seems to me that if someone showed me a relatively low risk (albeit very life-changing) way of getting rid of 100% of my debt in a year that wasn’t illegal or immoral, I think I would have to give it an honest go, even if the plan wasn’t 100% surefire.

But back to me. I have a lot of things that I should be doing in a certain priority order. And one of them is definitely out of my comfort zone. It is the part about using priorities. For as organized as I come across as trying to be, I fail on probably the most important level. I don’t prioritize. Even when I do prioritize, my priority tends to change too soon to be effective.

Do I have goals for 2012? Yes. Do I know what they are? Yes. Do I know how to set them? No. Why? Because I’m running into the problem of priority. I can’t decide what I should put above all else. Do I look for a job that pays better, but gives me less time to write, or do I make my priority to write 3,500 words a day, even if I’m stuck in the same low paying job (or jobs) as I’ve always been stuck in? A way to do both would be ideal of course, but barring that, I need a priority.

Here’s my point lined up in one succinct sentence:

This year, Nathan and I should pick one year-long goal, and one goal per ten-weeks, which drags us out of our comfort zones, while accomplishing something that we want in our lives.

And if I’m going to further that thought, making it not one sentence and not so succinct, it’s to say that these “out of comfort zone” goals should be our priority above all other things within reason. For instance, if I found a job that paid twice as much as what I make now, but would require me to move to Alaska, it might not be a reasonable move outside of my comfort zone, but for four times what I make it might be. Not changing the oil in Nathan’s car because of debt repayment is not reasonable, but postponing a new paint job on the house might be. The point is to be honest about the excuses we will tell ourselves, and to have a true set of priorities to back ourselves up when we start bullshitting ourselves. Otherwise, our comfort zones become a soft, warm bed at the bottom of a cold pit. We know we can climb out, but it’s cold, it will take a while, and that bed is warm and requires a lot less climbing to get into. Yet we will just lie there and wish we were out of the pit.

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