How Do You Define Success?

Do more of what makes you happy!Everyone pictures “success” as something different. Perhaps it’s a certain amount of money. Or a house and car. A family. Or some sort of recognition – being published, getting a certain number of unique website visits per month, being on the news, being quoted. Or a particular job.

Where did you learn about success? From your parents, teachers, friends? The Internet? By comparing yourself to others?

Historically we had peers, our community, perhaps people on TV or in newspapers as metrics for gauging success. Now everyone on the Internet, ever, is a potential comparison point. It’s a big pond. With the myriad personalities, work styles, and circumstances out there, we see many people our age with the appearance of success in jobs, roles, or lifestyles we desire.

But compare and you’ll despair. When is enough, enough? What does success mean for YOU? What are your goals and values?

In “Go with your Gut Feeling,” Magnus Walker calls success “the freedom to do whatever you want to do.” I love the title of the TED Talk, but I don’t quite agree with his definition. There will always been things we don’t want to do, and there are always opportunities to do what we want, even if it’s part time. I think success is a combination of contentment with what you have, eagerness to keep reaching goals, and the flexibility to do so with integrity.

From Michelle Obama, “success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” I won’t argue with that.

(photo by Eva Jannotta)

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Are You Obsessed With Money?

fatjoelilwayneA few weeks ago, my sister accused me of being “obsessed with money.” She was teasing, but it got me thinking: is she right?

I think about money often. It started after reading about Mr Money Mustache in the Washington Post (thanks, Dad!). I started paying attention – a lot of attention – to money. I joined I began tracking my spending and saving on a spreadsheet. I invested in Vanguard. I signed up for a 401(k). Early retirement is an exciting goal, but these were lifestyle changes that suited me regardless: attention to detail, a low environmental impact, and experiences over things.

Sometimes I wonder if I overdo it. Am I too fixated on building my stash? If I go out, is it worth having only one beer to save $10? Will those ten dollars really make a difference?

I write about values (here and here) and goals (here, here and here) and how important it is to align your lifestyle and spending with your values and goals. As I work part time and build my business, I want to be judicious about where and what I spend. To do that, I’m tuning in to my goals and values.


Me and my cousin Liz at the Piazza Venezia in Rome. The plaque reads, “Italians abroad to the mother country.”

That’s why I traveled to Italy in June. I value experiencing places and cultures and spending time with family. I’ve had the goal of traveling to Italy since I was a kid. Though Italy was a big expenditure, I had zero buyer’s remorse. I never felt anxious because the trip was exactly how I wanted to spend my money.

Friends sometimes get annoyed that I don’t want to go to happy hour. But the thing is, I want to go out and drink margaritas less than I want to travel where I want, when I want. I’d just as soon take a walk with my friends and have a drink at my house, and put margarita money towards my next transatlantic flight.

I don’t think I’m obsessed with money. I think I have clear and perhaps uncompromising view on what money is worth to me. What I earn buys what I value and helps me achieve my goals.

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So Money: Generosity, Values, & Opportunity

SoMoney_podcast_FarnooshTorabiWhat’s your favorite thing to listen to while commuting? I listen to the So Money podcast with Farnoosh Torabi. For 30 minutes every day, Farnoosh interviews entrepreneurs, thinkers, and people of all walks of life about their financial philosophies, triumphs, and fails. Farnoosh also answers listener questions and shares money suggestions herself.

Money is more than dollars and cents. It impacts our daily lives, yet many people feel paralyzed when it comes to managing it. It’s a concept and a system that emotionally and psychologically affects all of us, yet many people are uncomfortable talking about it. It’s a taboo topic, and there is a dearth of good financial education.

Enter So Money. A daily dose of financial not-awkwardness, frank advice, and humor. My favorite parts of the podcast:

Everyone makes mistakes. We know this so well it’s a cliche, but the space between knowing it and knowing it is wide. So Money guests share their own financial fails and what they learned, reminding us that even successful, money-savvy people have struggled with consumer debt, missed opportunities, fear, or greed.

What’s your Money Mantra? Farnoosh asks guests if they have a money philosophy, a keystone phrase or habit they use to keep their financial life in line. The mantras show the sheer variety of ways to think well about money.

Highlights from my So Money listening:

“Generous people have more to give.” – Danielle LaPorte

“Money is a stand in for what we value. If I get off track, I come back to what are my values? What’s important to me? What matters to me, and how can I get my financial life in alignment with that? ” – Kate Northrup

“There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘I want to do something different,’ or ‘Hey, this isn’t working, I’m going to pivot and I’m going to try something new.” – Laura Adams

“I wish that I had known there was so much opportunity. I think that as a child I was very focused on ‘what’s my career going to be, what’s the one thing that I’m going to do?’ and it stressed me out. I wasn’t one of those people who said ‘I want to be XYZ” as soon as I was seven or eight years old…. I think if I had realized back then that it was okay to do a lot of different things, and it was okay not to have one specific career, I didn’t have to be a doctor or a dentist, that it was okay just to not know and see where things go, I would have felt a little more at peace.” – Laura Adams

(This last one’s my favorite!)

Check out Farnoosh’s podcast to make every day #SoMoney.

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Live on < $20k: June


June was an amazing month, because Italy! However, that meant spending more and making less than usual. Though the June total was lower than in May, my savings rate is in the negatives. Two words though: worth it.

CategoryThis Month: JuneLast Month: May
Year to Date
Coffee Shops$0$15.44$40.99
Public Transit$9.23$28.46
Personal Care$71.62$180$362.51
Qapital Savings$80$80
% of $20k6.5%7.0%36.6%

Remainder to spend: $13,105.41 of $20k

Our utilities were the lowest they’ve been all year. #thanksmildweather

I’ve started using the Qapital app to track money goals, including saving enough to purchase a laptop.  Every week Qapital withdraws $20 from my checking account toward my goal. This way I stash cash for the goal slowly, rather than making one big purchase.

Want more? Check out Live on Less Than $20k and recaps for JanuaryFebruary, MarchApril, and May

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Should You? No, You Shouldn’t


Definition of SHOULD (past of shall) – used in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency: “’tis commanded I should do so” — Shakespeare, “this is as it should be” — H. L. Savage, “you should brush your teeth after each meal.”

Should is a weird word. The way I hear it used most means you are doing the wrong thing, and it would be better/smarter/more worth your time to do a different thing. But how does anyone know what the right thing to do is? Right according to whom?

I first thought critically about should with my aunt. She pointed out that, “whenever you think or say should, it’s someone else’s voice.” That is, should comes from what you were taught is correct to do. It comes from your socialization and upbringing, sense of responsibility, of justice, manners, culture, and trying to please people. It’s the voice of your parents, boss, partner, or God. It’s the lessons you learned about punctuality, debt, obligation, social rules and expectations, and appropriate reactions. At its best, it encourages you to do things that are important. At its worst, it gives the sense that you could always be doing something more than you are, which leads to feelings of inadequacy and guilt.

But when you speak and think in your own voice, there is nothing to should. In a universe without should, aren’t you always doing fine? If you can tune out the voice in your head yammering about obligations and ideas on the right and wrong ways to be, you’re just doing you on your own time. Maybe you shouldn’t be doing anything else.

It can be extremely frustrating when things don’t go the way they should – the way we expect, or the way we were taught is right (the door should be unlocked). But reality bends to no will or expectation.

Many shoulds come down to time. Time is a nonrenewable resource, and we want to do a lot in our lives. Many things compete for our time, and as we grew up we learned that some things are expected: “I should go out more. I should be meeting more people. I should make more money while I’m young. I should perform better at work.” They’re not bad things, per se, but they may not be you things, either. Next time you hear a should, think about whose voice is speaking. It probably isn’t yours.

(photo from Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh)

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What To Do With Bad Feelings

WhenYouFeelBad_SimplyPutStrategiesFeeling bad isn’t fun. Most prefer feeling great, but I don’t know anyone who feels great all the time. There’s emphasis in our culture on choosing to feel great, as though feelings are the simple result of decisions and if we want to, we can all feel great all the time. Just think positive! You can control your thoughts, choose happy ones! Look on the bright side!

But sometimes everything seems like it sucks. At the same time that we talk about viewing the glass half-full, we know that feelings are not rational choices. Sometimes there’s a correlation between events and reactions, but other times feelings come and go for no apparent reason.

For a long time, I’ve been frustrated with myself when I feel bad – discouraged, anxious, insecure, unmotivated. It seems like a waste of time to feel bad about stuff that will work out later, as everything does. It’s more fun to feel happy and confident.

However, regarding my feelings as enemies was getting me nowhere except more unhappy and frustrated. I needed a new tactic. I decided I will let myself feel things all the way, even if it meant crying or laying in bed dreading things.

It’s a relief, actually. Instead of avoiding feelings or berating myself for having them, I let them roll over me, content to feel bad for a time and knowing that “this too shall pass.” As Louis C.K. says, “sadness is poetic.” I remind myself:

Feelings are neutral. They don’t mean you’re a good or bad person and they don’t mean you’re doomed. They just are. You can’t control them (or everyone would). So notice them. Be a casual, neutral observer instead of taking them personally and guessing what they MEAN about you.

Imagine your feelings (fear, discouragement, stress) are helping you. If they could talk, what would they say? What do they want you to know? What do they want to protect you from? What are they afraid of? What do they want for you?

Write down concrete steps you could take to alleviate your feelings. (This is helpful for fear and anxiety, but less helpful for grief, which takes time.) You don’t have to follow the steps, but having them on paper will remind you that you can change your situation.

When I do these things, it helps. Sometimes I imagine that anxiety like is an bird on my shoulder, chirping in my ear so that I get things done on time, do good work, and contribute to people. I tell the owl thanks, and to take time off. I don’t need that many reminders.

Note: some experiences with feelings are best treated clinically. 

(photo by Eva Jannotta)

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Never More Than One

NoMoreThanOneTask_SimplyPutStrategiesWe all feel overwhelmed sometimes. We are responsible for many things, we have steps to take towards goals, we have homes and jobs and people we care for. When I feel stressed by my To Do list, or my mind spins into panic about what I need to do RIGHT NOW, I remember this quote by Byron Katie:

“There’s never a task too great or too small, because the only task to accomplish is the one in front of me. It might appear that there are a thousand things to do, but in fact there is never more than one.”

We can only complete one task at a time. There is never more than that one thing to do, the thing right in front of us, whether it’s to put on pajamas, proof a pitch, submit an application, or give a hug.

There’s never more than one thing to do.

(photo by Eva Jannotta)

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Minimize: Instead of “One & Done” Think Change Over Time

Minimize_ChangeOverTime_SimplyPutStrategiesI first heard of minimalism on November 5, 2011. I was in school then and that winter break, I went through everything I had in my parents’ house and purged, purged, purged.

It felt great, and I seldom missed anything I gave or threw away. Still, I kept most of my things. I did not join the 100 club, or even dramatically change the way my space looked. Most of the stuff I let go was stored under my bed, in my closet, or in the basement, out of sight and out of mind. When I let it go I felt better – buoyant and relieved and accomplished. But things didn’t look very different.

When I learned about minimalism and took a critical look at what I had, I thought I would minimize and organize once and be done. I’d get rid of things, feel great, and never need to do it again. But after that initial purge, it didn’t feel done. I still had more stuff than anyone needs.

Of course, need is subjective. We all have more than we “need,” and that’s beside the point. Do we like what we have? How does it make us feel? People like things – they remind us of people and places, or we like how they look, or how they make us feel when we use or wear them. Yet my things often make me feel crowded.

For many of us, there will be an ongoing tension between too much and too little, between keeping what we like and creating homes that are spacious and uncluttered. It’s not a one-and-done process. Rather, minimizing and organizing take multiple passes. It’s change over time. Items you can’t bear to part with now may be easy to donate in six months. Your mind needs time to get used to the idea of letting go, especially if they are things you feel emotionally or intellectually attached to – my grandma gave me this, I should read that book, those earrings are pretty.

Some people go through their things at the same time every year, as part of spring cleaning or similar. Others go through sections of things every few months. Whatever you prefer, try the following next time you tackle your stuff:

Establish criteria: create guidelines for yourself as you minimize and organize your things, such as only keep four black shirts, no more books than fit on this shelf, no doubles, no more photos than fit in this album. 

Put it away for a time: if you’re unsure whether to keep something, put it away for six months and see if you notice its absence. Mark your calendar with an end-date for the experiment – if you haven’t thought of it since January, it’s time to let it go.

Take pictures: even if you haven’t thought of something in a while, a rush of feelings and memories may return when you see it again. If you feel attached but know it’s time to move on, take a picture of the item so you can access those feelings and memories any time.

What are your minimizing or organizing challenges? Are you content with what you have, or do you feel crowded?

(photo by Eva Jannotta. Going through things in my room for the nth time)


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The Right Words Are Worth A Thousand….

IMG_1178There are many personal and professional situations when we’re not sure what to say. Power dynamics, compassion, fear, discomfort, respect, time, and much more play a part in the words we choose. Like everything, practice makes better. We will all have times when it will be hard to know what to say. Here are several phrases and responses to keep in your back pocket for such situations:

“It won’t be possible.” This one I learned from Jen Dziura, and have used effectively. It’s hard to argue with it won’t be possible (what can you say? Make it possible?), and it makes you sound in control of the situation. After all, you know what is and isn’t possible. You know the facts.

“Do you mind if I finish?” Interruptions! Some people are so good at them. Respond to interruptions by (politely) asking if you may finish your thought/sentence. Often people don’t realize they interrupt, and once it’s pointed out are quick to remember that interrupting is rude, and to give you back the floor. What’s their alternative? Yes, I do mind. What I have to say is more important. They may think that but they probably won’t say it, especially if there’s an audience.

“Did you say…?” a friend’s colleague gave her this advice: if you’re in a situation and you’re not sure what to say, repeat the other person’s statement. It buys you time and, if the other person’s statement was absurd, exposes the absurdity to their own ears. Say someone backs into your car (I hope not). If the other person gets out and tries to blame you for the accident, don’t apologize! (This actually happened to someone I know.) Instead, try “did you say this was my fault?” You know, semi-politely.

“What?” Another recommendation from the same colleague-of-a-friend. This is another time-buying device. More politely, “what was that?” or “can you repeat that?”

“What is the next step?” This neatly places the ball out of your court. If someone is asking you for something, say your piece and end with “what’s the next step?” Sometimes people will try (consciously or subconsciously) to get you to do all the work. This simple question turns that around (another one from Jen).

“Good fit.” This is a good phrase when asking for things. Say you’re negotiating, and you have requests. After stating them, leave the conversation on terms of a good fit. Given these requests, please let me know if this position is a good fit. We all want situations that are mutually beneficial. “Good fit” is an easy way to communicate that.

“Uncivil.” This is a great word. It’s unusual, a old-fashioned (I’ve only come across it in Jane Austen novels), and snappy. Because of these characteristics, it gets peoples’ attention. Use it when situations (or people!) are uncivil.

“That’s not an bullish-blog-networkappropriate way to talk to a woman.” This one is also from Jen, and it’s for street harassment. I’ve tried it once, and it didn’t work too well (the guys kept talking to me. I think my delivery was more disgusted than morally superior/disappointed. Is it stupid that I need to practice my tone for responding to street harassers? Yes. Such is life). But it gave me something to say, and I will keep practicing.

What are your favorite words or phrases? (Buzzfeed collected some great ones such as limerence, vellichor, and syzygy!)

This post is part of The Bullish Blog Network.

(photo by Eva Jannotta)


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Travel: People, Places, Ancient History

Back in the muggy swamp that is Washington, DC, it’s been six days since I was in Italy. The trip was incredible: it exceeded all my expectations.


I love traveling to other countries. Most of them have physical evidence of ancient history all over, in a way the United States does not. This was a huge treat in Italy. Roman and Greek ruins are casually everywhere –  aqueducts besides train tracks and temples in the middle of bustling cities.

Still, the most meaningful part of our trip was the people.

Liz and I planned this trip as kids, promising each other we would travel to Italy together and see the village where our great-grandfather grew up. We had no expectations of finding family there. Not only would they be distant cousins, but what were the odds that any would still live there, and that we would be able to find them?

Our Airbnb host was undeterred. She took us to the town municipio where we saw our great-grandparents’ marriage record! We learned that we do indeed have family still living in town. So we visited them! They were generous, warm, and very Italian. They talked loudly over one another, urged us to “mangia,” and used dramatic hand gestures. They had photos of our great-grandparents, our great-great-grandparents, even letters my great-grandfather wrote to his sister in Italy. I teared up when I saw them. It made our family history so real.


We also saw the house where he grew up. It’s empty now. It sits precariously on the hill that makes up the historic town, surrounded by cobblestone and winding staircases. Walk a few streets over and there’s a beautiful view of the mountains and valleys of southern Italy.

friends_Italy_SimplyPutStrategiesWe also made friends in another place we visited. After getting lost on our walk to the next town and ending up somewhere different, we landed, hungry and worn out, in a spagheterria for lunch. Two men entered the restaurant shortly after, and helped translate what the waiter was trying to offer us (frittelle, basically Italian hush puppies). They ended up offering to show us around town, which made our visit much more exciting and enjoyable. They were friendly and generous with their time. Thanks to their car, we were able to see parts of the town we would have otherwise missed. They introduced us to their friends and the local nightlife. They even took us to their beach house! Thanks to them, we felt right at home.

Italy is a spectacular place to visit – there is much to see and taste. Yet making the personal connections we did reminded me how important relationships are. They bring unique meaning to experiences, no matter how long (or short) the relationships last.

One of my professors once said,

“The beautiful thing about being somewhere for a while is how it gets into your skin. It makes it hard to leave, even if you know it’s not quite “home.” But it’s a part of you now and you will more than likely go back. And it’s also always good to come home, even if that makes you sad to leave at the same time.”

I feel energized and grateful and curious in new ways, and it is nice to be home. Yet every time I travel I feel like I leave a little part of myself behind. There’s some grief (in addition to gladness) that I’m home again. We’re already talking about going back. Fingers crossed for summer 2016!

(photos taken by Eva Jannotta)

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