Why Ten Year Plans Don’t Work Anymore

tap-nonquestion

I have to admit that when it comes to watching movies, I’m usually about a year or more behind—unless, of course, that movie involves certain DC or Marvel characters or the words Star and Wars in succession.

So, it’s perfectly natural for a movie like The Intern (2015) to completely fly under my radar. I hadn’t even heard of it until a good friend recommended it to me recently. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it stars Robert De Niro as 70-year-old Ben Whittaker, a widower who’s found that retirement is not all that awesome. He ends up getting hired into a unique senior internship program at a fast-growing e-commerce fashion company founded and run by Jules Ostin, played by Anne Hathaway.

During Whittaker’s interview process, he speaks to various (and much younger) company execs. One of the questions he’s asked is a variation of the common, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” To which he rightfully asks, “When I’m 80?”

But you don’t have to be 70 for that question to be irrelevant. Ten-year plans don’t work anymore for anyone. Here’s why:

There’s No Room for Change

I’m not saying it isn’t good to make plans. Having an umbrella in hand with rain on the forecast is not a bad thing. Good planning helps gives direction, save money and time, and gives scope to metrics.

But tech has played a full deck of wild cards in the past few decades when it comes to how we work. Some hot jobs didn’t even exist 10 years ago. When Pixar worked on the first Toy Story (which came out in 1995—I just made you feel old, didn’t I?), they had computer developers and animators developing the programs to make the movie as they made the movie.

Makes you almost curious as to what jobs will exist ten years from now.

There’s No Room for Awesome

I’m reading Jon Acuff’s Start. at the moment. He uses the word “awesome” a lot. Awesome’s enemy is average. I’m not saying that plans can’t be awesome. Dental procedures going according to plan are awesome.

But living a planned life is not awesome. Success is best understood and appreciated in the context of failure. Innovation is monogamous to risk. Bravery rises in the presence of fear.

Average is predictable. Awesome is adventurous…. We want to plan the road to awesome. We want to talk about our ten-year visions. We want to detail every step before we take a single one. To make sure there’s no room for mistakes or failure. But when we do that, when we squeeze our lives and purposes that tightly, we eliminate any room for surprises…. The road to awesome, though, is defined by surprises. – Jon Acuff, Start., (Brentwood, Tennessee: Lampo Press, 2013), 34-35.

Plans with no flexibility have no room for awesome but plenty of room for disappointment.

There’s No Room for Life

After I lost my job, I was talking with my father about my next steps over dinner one evening. I had sent out resume after resume for months with cricket chirps as my answer, and I was obviously getting discouraged.

Then he asked me, “Why don’t you stop?”

Pardon?

To give you some context, I’d just spent over six years working as an editor in the communications department of a nonprofit. For a majority of those six years, he’d asked me, “So, when are you going to go work for a real company?” But now that I didn’t even have that job anymore, he was suggesting that I stop looking for work all together?

He then told me a story I hadn’t heard of before. I knew that after he was laid off over 10 years ago from his computer programming job, he and my stepmom had opened a cosmetic shop (for her) and a Vietnamese radio station (for him). What I didn’t know was that they had put everything they had into those two businesses. They were in their 50s and 60s at the time. If either small business failed, they didn’t have anything to fall back on. Fortunately, their little businesses became profitable, and they continue to run them today.

I’m sure that back when my father was hired at his last company, being laid off and starting his own business was not part of his ten-year plan. After all, he was from the generation that stayed with a company for decades before retiring.

So, he made a suggestion that I never thought he would to me—to stop looking for work and start building something for myself. He even offered to give me some start-up capital. “And don’t be afraid to fail. If it doesn’t work out, try something else.”

If you’d asked me ten years ago that I planned to lose my job and start selling clothes online, I would’ve asked you to stop smoking whatever mess you were into. Now, I dare you to find someone who has led a perfectly planned life. If you do, I’ll show you someone who is not an expert at living. He’s just been great at not dying (yes, I totally stole that from The Croods).

It’s great to have goals and dreams. We can’t live or grow without them. But we rob ourselves of the joy in the journey to those desired destinations if we plan too much and too far. That may prove the greater failure in the end.

3 Reasons Why You Need a Side Hustle

tap-job-hunt

 

Back when I was an editor with a salary and benefits and I told people what I did for a living, I usually received a polite nod followed by a change of subject. I surmised this response was for one of two reasons: 1) they didn’t know what editors did and/or 2) they didn’t care. (Maybe a bit of both.)

Now that I’m not an editor anymore and my answer to the “work” question is “I sell stuff online,” you wouldn’t believe the questions that follow. Actually, you could, because most are, “What do you sell?” (clothes), “How did you get into it?” (long story), “Where do you get the stuff you sell?” (mostly charity stores), and “Which website do you sell on?” (eBay).

Many have also told me they’ve thought about selling on eBay on the side but don’t really know how to start. Truth is I didn’t know either. Up until the summer of 2014, my knowledge of e-commerce was chopping an old tower computer I had in high school and selling off the parts.

There are buckets of blogs and articles out there that will tell you how to get started selling stuff online, so I won’t go into that here. But I will say that it’s a pretty simple way to bring in a few extra bucks with relatively little investment and commitment.

If selling used stuff online is not your thing, you may still want to find a side hustle. Even if you have a well-paying full-time job that you love, you may find other benefits more useful than cash.

1. Diversifying your income

You might hear about income diversification more within the realm of investment, such as this article that appeared in Entrepreneur back in March. In a way, starting a side business is an investment.

I started my online shop when I lost my job. Up until then, my only income was my paycheck. If I’d started my current business as a side gig while I was still earning my salary and benefits, it would’ve been far easier than starting from scratch.

I really hope you never lose your job. Trust me—it sucks. But if you do experience a sudden and unexpected loss of your primary income, cash coming in from a side business can make things easier as you look for another job. Or, if you so choose, you can use your newfound freedom to grow your side business into your main one.

2. Tax deductions

A side business can really help at tax time, even while you’re still working for someone else. Since I print shipping labels and packing slips, my toner is deductible. Whenever I look for inventory, my mileage for each shopping trip is partially deductible. One of my close friends is an accountant, so if I have accounting questions for her, we can chat over dinner and I can deduct her meal and mine.

Last summer, my family wanted to caravan out to Florida for vacation. Since I had to shut down my shop for a week, I wanted to make the trip work for me. So, I scheduled some stops in Louisiana to find inventory. I worked with my CPA and found that I could take deductions for my mileage, meals, lodging, and of course whatever inventory I bought.

Depending on the type of business you have, possible tax deductions lurk in all kinds of places, such as workshops and seminars, books and other educational materials, art supplies, photography equipment, and even child care expenses. Check with your CPA to see what deductions qualify. He or she might even help you find more.

3. Trying something new

Let’s face it. Even if you have an awesome job, it can get dull sometimes. Having a side hustle that’s different from your day-to-day is a great way to break up the monotony, learn something new, and/or just have fun (like an income-generating hobby).

Before I started my tiny business, I didn’t know the first thing about fashion or e-commerce. I just knew that I liked Lucky Brand jeans, so I started with a few pairs I found at a charity store that I thought were cool and in great condition.

Imagine my surprise when they all sold in a couple weeks and netted me twice as much as what I had paid for them. I felt like I was committing fraud. (I learned from a buyer later, however, that he hated shopping. So, he was happy paying me a premium if it meant someone else could do the digging and have his items delivered straight to his doorstep.)

Fast-forward to nearly two years later and I still don’t know a lot about fashion or e-commerce. But I know more than when I started, like the difference between denim and chambray. I also know more about SEO than I did before. I’m even building relationships with other individuals who do what I do, exchanging tips and sharing especially great deals.

Maybe you like photography and want to make engagement or family portraits on the side. Or you’re a developer and don’t mind doing a little extra coding as a freelancer. Perhaps you make art or jewelry or leather goods and want to sell your creations on Etsy or your own Shopify. Whatever you’re into, it’s easier than ever to start a side hustle and reap the benefits. So what’s stopping you?

Solo Travel Does Not Make Me Brave

Cloudy day at Lake Como a couple weeks ago. Image Credit: Christine Dao

Cloudy day at Lake Como a couple weeks ago. Image Credit: Christine Dao

I am currently in Rome and on the second to last leg of a five-ish week long trip through Europe. Over the past few weeks, I’ve met some fun people (both locals and other travelers), and one thing I’ve heard repeatedly is: “You’re traveling alone? Wow, you’re brave!”

While I am quite flattered at the comment, I have to be honest—it’s completely inaccurate. I’m not a brave person by nature. That’s not humility. It’s the truth. I like things a certain way, and when they get disrupted, I don’t like it.

But that’s kinda how life is all the time, and I’ve seen some big disruptions in the past couple years. Like, I lost my job in 2013, 20 days before Christmas. That dominoed into losing my apartment and sucking down my pride to move back in with my mom and dad. Shortly after that, several disruptions hit my folks, including my dad being diagnosed with melanoma.

So, there have been some sucky times that have happened recently. Really sucky. Like, I’m-not-seeing-the-light-at-the-end-of-this-tunnel-sucky. But just because I couldn’t see the light doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. It just meant that I was not looking up.

I got over the losing of the job thing and started my own business. My dad is healing. He and my mom are actually in Cancun right now taking a much needed break.

So far on this trip, I’ve had to change hotels a couple times because of mosquitoes getting into my room and tearing up my face. I’ve had an owner on HomeAway send me a harassing email about a three-star review I left about her property. I’ve been nearly run over multiple cyclists despite my best efforts to look all ways before crossing a street.

None of that really matters. I didn’t get run over. I ignored the emails. And when I was switching hotels in Rome and getting a little upset (Okay, very upset. I was crying. All my cool points were gone by then.) when I couldn’t find a taxi stand, a bunch of really nice guys at a café helped me find an off-duty taxi driver, and he offered to get me to my new hotel (on the other side of town—which in Rome, is freakishly far) for FREE. (Of course I still paid him. Because he was awesome.)

Before coming to Italy, I was warned that Italians could be very rude and not friendly to Americans. While there has been a rude bug or two at a ticket office or cafe here or there, most of the Italians I’ve come across have been very patient and very kind.

In Milan while at Sforza Castle, I met an architect who was extremely passionate about the Renaissance structure (I LOVE talking to people like that!). In Florence, I stayed at the Casa Secchiaroli, a charming guesthouse with an extremely helpful and kind staff, and ate way too many sweets at the Vecchio Forno Firenze (they don’t have a site, so you’ll just have to Google them), an amazing bakery with the friendliest ladies behind the counter you will ever meet. And then there were the sweet gentlemen at La Petite Fourchette Bistrot in Rome (just outside the Piramide metro station) who helped me find an even sweeter taxi driver.

Solo travel hasn’t made me brave. Not in the least. But it has made me thankful. Thankful that I could go on this trip and have these experiences. Thankful for the kindness of (most) Italians. Thankful that my parents made it through all that crap and are coming out of it with their heads up. Thankful that I even have parents still who were more than willing to take me back under their roof when my own was being taken away.

This trip is also forcing me to be okay with asking for help. Back home, I know where to go and what to do without having to really talk to other people. Here, I’ve had to ask for help (in broken French and even more broken Italian) and rely on the kindness of others far more than I am normally comfortable with. And while the past few weeks have not been perfect, they have been perfect for me.

I have a couple days left in Rome (visiting the Vatican tomorrow). Then I’m off to Venice. I’ve heard a lot of bad things about Venice. Here’s hoping they are all wrong, too.

Live Like a Local?

Image Credit: Christine Dao

Image Credit: Christine Dao

I am currently in Florence (Firenze!), on the fourth leg of a five-week-ish long trip through Europe. I started in the UK (to see family), went to the South of France, then Milan, now Florence, and then on to Rome and Venice.

So far, I’ve stayed in a mix of lodgings, including an apartment, a two-star hotel, a four-star hotel, and a guesthouse in a turn-of-the-century (but renovated) Florentine casa. Some have been close to the main tourist areas while others have been in areas where mostly locals live. So you might say I’ve had a very tiny glimpse into living “like a local” for a short time.

I know a lot of travel shows and websites like to promote the live “like a local” thing. And I think there is value in that. When you’re a tourist staying only where the tourists stay, eating only what the tourists eat, and doing only what the tourists do, then there is a level of authenticity to the place that disappears. It really depends on what kind of travel experience you’re going for, I suppose.

But there are things that a tourist sees that a local may not. Back at home, a friend from The Philippines is staying in Dallas for a while, and he posted some pictures of Half-Price Books and my mom’s home-cooking on Facebook. To me, those are ordinary and everyday things, but to him, they are extraordinary and awesome.

On the flip side, when I was in Paris a couple years ago hanging out with my cousin and his girlfriend, I rambled on a bit about the amazing history of the city and the monuments and impressionism and so on. My cousin’s girlfriend then said to me something along the lines of, “You know, I know we have these great things, but I guess I don’t see it because I’ve always seen it. But now that you’re talking about it, I see how great these things are.”

So in a way, sometimes living like a local can blind you a bit to some of the awesome things about the place you live. And it takes someone from another place to remind you of the wonder that surrounds you every day. And while I think there is some value in “living like a local,” I think there is more value in “exploring like an explorer,” where even the ordinary is new a fresh and wonderful.

I have about ten more days of exploring Italy before heading back to the US. I have a feeling, however, that after spending five weeks in Europe, things will look a little different to me when I get back home 🙂

Cash or Card? Money While Traveling in the South of France

Image Credit: Christine Dao

Image Credit: Christine Dao

Doubling up on posts today, since I missed one last week. I’m currently bumming around the South of France, about a third of the way through a five-week Europe tour. I started in the UK and I’ll make my way through Italy later.

This is my first time spending this much time abroad. My first Euro trip to the UK lasted about 10 days, and my second one to France lasted a little over a week (it was supposed to be two weeks, but my grandma had passed away and I had to cut the trip short to make it back to Texas for her funeral).

This is also my first solo abroad trip, so I have to figure out some things on my own that I used to rely on others for—like how to pay for stuff.

Cash Is King

During a day trip to Eze Village, I met and chatted a bit with two ladies from the US who were in the South of France for a couple days. They asked me where I was changing my cash, and I said I wasn’t.

Taking a cue from Rick Steves, I’ve mostly been getting cash from bank ATMs (not random, stand-alone cash machines that appear shady). I had checked with my bank before leaving the US, and they have a much better fee (less than 1%) than the money exchangers. Plus, I’ve noticed (at least in Monte Carlo) that bank ATMs are more plentiful than money exchangers, and they are accessible all the time.

Not only has it been simple to get cash, it has been worlds easier to pay with cash and coins than with cards. Most stores, especially grocery stores, have limits before you can use your credit card. Coins have been the best way to pay for bus tariffs as well (bus drivers will glare at you with contempt if you try to pay with anything larger than a 5 Euro note–and if you speak to them in French when they happen to be Italian).

As an odd and added “bonus,” since I am paying for basically everything with cash, I am acutely aware of how much money I’m spending every day. It has been helpful to plan my day based on whatever happens to be (or not be) in my wallet at the time, rather than mindlessly swiping a card everywhere. (This may or may not be a practice I maintain when I return home.)

Credit Card Travel Notifications

Something else I’m figuring out about money and traveling in another country is credit card travel notifications. I’ve never set one before, and I didn’t know until a couple days ago that I could do it easily online.

For this trip, I brought with me Debit Card (for cash at ATMs), Favorite Card (my credit card I use at home, but since it charges 3% on foreign transactions, I brought it as back up), and Travel Card (my credit card that does not charge any foreign transaction fee and that I was going to use primarily for this trip).

I checked with my bank before I left the US to see if I needed any travel notifications to use Debit Card in the countries I will be in. They said “no” but that I should check my balance frequently and call them right away if I see any suspicious charges or withdrawals.

I, however, did not check with my credit cards. And that was a mistake. I used Travel Card at a coffee shop in Surrey and to buy a museum ticket. After that, the card stopped working. A couple days passed before I could get Travel Card’s company on the phone to let them know that the international charges were from me. But they had already elevated the case to their fraud team and were in the process of canceling my card.

Talk about a pain. But I suppose they were doing their job at trying to keep my account safe, and I can’t really fault them for that. But I had to cut up Travel Card right away and never use it again. And since I was traveling, I couldn’t tell the company where to send my new card while I was abroad. So, I just had them send it home, where it should be waiting for me when I get back.

Fortunately, faithful old Favorite Card was still with me, and I hadn’t used it for anything yet. I went online to set a travel notification and (since I am a little paranoid by nature), I called customer service to make sure that they knew I was out of the country. While cash is great for paying for just about everything, places such as hotels will only deal with credit cards, and I had to make sure at least one of mine was fully functioning.

So yes. For future reference, I must make sure to turn on credit card travel notifications before leaving home and to have at least one back up card just in case.

Still No Guaranteed Paid Time Off for US Workers

I am currently in the South of France on the second leg of a five-week jaunt through Europe. I found an apartment near Monaco through HomeAway.com that has a not too horrible view.

beasoleilbalc

Image Credit: Christine Dao

This is a trip I’ve wanted to do for a while. When I had my Salary and Benefits, it was immensely difficult to get any time off (let alone a month or more). I suppose when you have a job with loads of tight deadlines, you pretty much don’t have a life outside of work (unless you just don’t sleep).

But now that I have a tiny business, I have more flexibility to live life beyond work. I started this trip about two weeks ago in the UK to visit with my cousin and her family. She used to live in Australia, and we started talking about work practices in different countries. And we agreed that workers in the US work far more than people in other parts of the world. That can be both a good and a bad thing.

Without a doubt, many (though definitely not all) Americans know how to hustle, how to put in the extra hours, and how to give 110 percent. That drive and ambition can be really constructive—in the proper context and the proper timing. But not always.

Everything, from a car to a plot of farmland, shows that any system under continuous stress WILL (not may) fail if not given the time to rest and receive proper maintenance. And yet the US is still the only developed country that does not require employers to guarantee paid time off. It also doesn’t require guaranteed paid maternity leave.

I’ve never really understood why this is. I don’t condone laziness (obviously!), but I also saw first hand in my own working experience how quickly someone can burn out if he or she isn’t able to just get away from the grind once in a while. And anyone knows that weekends are never enough, what with all the catching up on things that had to be put off during the regular week.

I understand that private business wants the government to be hands off. But with so many regulations on health and safety and what not, shouldn’t insuring that workers have a certain amount of time off out of the year be a no-brainer? Of all the things our government requires of us, I would think that it’s the least that can be done.

But I guess that doesn’t really affect me now, except when the post office is closed for an observance or holiday—like today for Labor Day.

Do you get paid time off from your employer? How do you spend it?

When Credit Cards Can Be a Tiny Business Owner’s Best Friend

Image from Flickr.

Image from Flickr.

I started my tiny business with $200, and I didn’t want to go into any debt. Everything I made in the first few months rolled back into the business to help it grow.

I didn’t know at the time, but I apparently had been using what Zeev Farbman, CEO and co-founder of Lightricks, calls “The Bakery Model.” In essence:

You make a bagel, sell the bagel, buy ingredients to make more bagels, sell those bagels and on and on you go. (source)

I think most people who sell for profit on a platform like eBay use this model naturally. Different types of products and services might require some kind of outside funding. But in the case of the Denym Dystryct, I was using an existing and high-traffic marketplace platform that made it simple for me to simply acquire inventory with the limited funds I had on hand and start selling.

In early 2015, however, I needed some printer toner, storage bins to safely store my inventory, and a few other things to make my tiny business run more efficently. I had cash from sales in my PayPal account at the time, but it would take at least a few days for it to transfer to my bank, and I had wanted to take advantage of some promotional prices at the time. So, I used my credit card. And at the end of the month, I paid it off.

That’s when I started to see that credit cards don’t have to be evil if they are used properly. In fact, they could be really beneficial to a tiny business.

Credit cards are easier to get than business loans.

Anyone who has tried to get a loan for anything recently knows that it’s a pain in the eye. Even if you have excellent credit. I was also admittedly too lazy to go even apply for one.

But I didn’t need thousands of dollars. I just needed a few hundred. So, I applied online for a credit card that I could use solely for tiny business purchases.

Fortunately, I have excellent credit, so I was approved in seconds and I got my new card in the mail the following week. Way less painful than begging a bank for a loan.

Credit cards can help buy equipment and build inventory.

As my sales grew, I needed to have enough stock on hand to fill orders, and I had to make sure that my equipment was in working order. Otherwise, I could lose orders and momentum (eBay is a huge marketplace, and if I didn’t have what someone wanted at the time, he or she could easily find another seller).

When I increased my inventory by a manageable amount using my credit card, I was able to increase my store’s offerings. My sales went up.

Credit card benefits can be (gasp) beneficial.

The credit card I use for my tiny business purchases has cash back benefits. I prefer cash back, and I use it towards my balance when enough points have accumulated. There are a lot of cards with different benefits out there, and sites like CreditCard.com can help you figure out which one works best for you if you need one.

It is important to note, however that credit card benefits are just that—BENEFITS. The cash back is pennies to the dollar. And while getting it is a perk, it doesn’t excuse the fact that I have to still pay back what I borrowed. So, I only use it when I know I can pay it off fast. If I can’t, I have to wait or figure something else out.

Credit cards can help track business expenses.

I still keep receipts from my tiny business purchases, but it’s good to know that I have a record of those same purchases on my credit card statement as a back up. Having a record of all my purchases comes in super handy during tax season. And some credit cards can put your spending into pretty little pie charts online to show where you’re spending the most (i.e., stores, gasoline, cellphone bill, etc.). That way, you can adjust your spending accordingly if you need to.

Credit card companies can help dispute charges.

A few months ago, I bought a lot containing 13 pairs of jeans from a liquidation auction site. According to the photos and the description, I understood that some of the jeans would not be sellable.

But if at least half of them were in good condition, I could still turn a decent profit on them. When I got the lot, however, I was severely disappointed. Nearly all the jeans had some significant damage, such as broken zippers, holes in the seats, broken belt loops—stuff that I would never intentionally list in my store. When I contacted the liquidation auction site with photos of the damaged jeans and asked for a refund, they basically said, “Nope. Sucks for you.”

So, I contacted my credit card company, told them what had happened, and they started looking into it. During that time, they put a hold on the amount I had paid for the lot and the shipping, which meant I didn’t have to accumulate any interest on that amount while they were doing their thing. A couple weeks later, my credit card company contacted me back and said they finished their investigation and returned my money in full. (Win!)

Suffice it to say, I won’t be doing business with that liquidation auction site again. Or probably any liquidation auction site ever. But that was the first time I had ever contacted a credit card company to dispute a charge, and it’s good to know that I can do it again if I have to (hopefully I won’t, though).

Credit cards are not evil if you treat them with respect.

After I graduated from college, I had an uncomfortable amount of credit card debt that took me a few years to pay off. After that, I didn’t carry a credit card balance again for a while.

I started using cards again earlier this year for my tiny business, but with the understanding that I have to use them wisely. That means only buying what I really need for my tiny business and nothing else. It also means paying off balances fast so I don’t have to pay a lot in interest.

So that is my experience with using credit cards with my tiny business so far. Do you have any other advice to add?