Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sometimes remembering the past can make the present even better.

As the economy continually tries to pick itself up from crawling to stumbling to what will hopefully become larger, adult like steps toward recovery we need not forget what got us into this mess to begin with. We as humans often have very short-term memories when it comes to remembering the things we’ve promised ourselves we would never forget.

Signs of things getting better seem to be spreading like a rumor being whispered about in lunchrooms with cautious optimism. Everyone wants to believe it, but nobody wants to jinx it. Gas is cheaper; Real Estate might have finally hit bottom, 100 million dollar estates are being purchased in all cash deals and at the moment, one only has to throw a dart at a map of Silicone Valley to determine which internet company will go public next.

Even on a personal level, I have managed to pick up some clients and projects here and there that have made my own situation more promising. My bills are getting paid with a little more cushion to spare and I am starting to “treat” myself to occasional meals out and even set an ambitious goal of getting completely out of debt by the end of this year. In fact, just this past Saturday I, along with my brother, 4 sisters and 5 in-laws all met up at a nice restaurant for brunch in Downtown L.A. to celebrate my mother’s retirement after 27 years of working for the same company. The mood was joyful as it should be for such an event, even with all the planning and hassle that comes along with so many people meeting at a restaurant that does not take reservations. Even with some of my siblings with younger kids having to find sitters- all of us could not have been happier to be there.

Only one of us had been there before, while the rest of us were trying the place for the first time and we were not disappointed. The restaurant itself had a great vibe, it got us all out of our familiar zip codes, the food was very good and the prices were pretty reasonable – all things considered. Everything went off without a hitch until the check came.

For anyone who has ever been out to dinner with a large party where everyone is responsible for paying for him or herself… knows that this can become somewhat of an awkward moment. Everyone calculating what they had or more importantly what they didn’t have. Who ordered an appetizer? And who just had water? Are often the questions being thrown around. When all was said and done and the cell phones doubling as calculators were finally put away the bill was eventually settled. I myself handed over more than enough cash to cover what I had ordered and with a hint of arrogance made a comment to “keep the change”. Change that was returned to me by one of my in-laws with a sense of practicality that made me re-think the hubris in which I had tried to leave it.

It was then that I realized the irony of the entire situation. We were there to celebrate my mother’s retirement and the main reason why she was able to retire in such a fashion was not because she made a lot of money, hardly the case considering that her salary during her last year was a very modest $42,000. The reason why she was able to retire was because of how she handled her money. Change was something she always kept and saved rather than letting someone else keep it for her. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves, however cliché it might be to remember the bad times so we can fully appreciate the good.

The thought of telling someone to “keep the change” at some fancy restaurant would have been absolutely ridiculous just two short years ago when my clients were leaving in droves during which I was asking myself for the very first time in my life the question of “what am I going to do?” So why should it be any different now? Change, in hindsight was all I had not too long ago. I needed all the change I could get back then, not to pay for nice brunches at trendy restaurants but to pay for groceries and rent.

Now that things seem to be changing for the better, there are certain things that should remain the same. I made a promise to myself that, when things eventually got better that I would not take things for granted like I once did and there is no better time to keep that promise than now.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A modest life yields extraordinary results.

We’ve all heard the saying that “desire is the fuel of life” and that we, as human beings are innately programmed to be perpetually dissatisfied with our lives. We are trained to constantly want more. More respect, a bigger office with a fancier title and of course more money.

We hear so much about overnight dot com millionaires, professional athletes and team owners alike squandering away astronomical sums of money only to file for bankruptcy with nothing to show for their wealth other than a fog of memories of the way things used to be. I’ve witnessed it first hand with clients that have W-2’s well into the 6 and even 7 figures who don’t even have a savings account.

Then there are individuals like Victoria Ubaldo Antonio, an immigrant from the Philippines who made the 8000-mile journey to the United States back in 1979 to help her congenitally deformed son find the medical treatment that her home country simply could not provide. Making such a journey in your adolescent years is one thing, since children and even teens in general adapt to new surroundings with relative aplomb. Making such a transition at the age of 39 however makes it far more difficult to not only assimilate into a new culture but to learn an entirely new language as well, but that is exactly what Victoria did. Leaving behind a life that she had carved out for herself all the way into her middle age with a self sustaining bakery business, friends and an ailing mother in order to make her youngest son feel normal for the first time in his life and to provide opportunities that just did not exist for her other son and 4 daughters.

She got a job with an insurance company 27 years ago with a starting salary of $12,000 a year and retired this past Friday with a salary that topped off at $42,000. She would continually redefine the word “sacrifice” and did something that is almost unheard of in this day and age – she lived below her means. During her working years she depended on no one while so many depended on her. She would work well into the night, taking on part time jobs so she can make sure that the needs of her younger children were taken care of. She would come home after a 14-hour day to cook, clean and go to sleep only to do it all over again the very next day. She would always stress the importance of getting an education and did absolutely everything in her power to provide the very best for her kids. Even if that meant waking up even earlier than usual so she can prepare a hearty lunch for her youngest son and carpool to work so he can drive her car, to make up for the fact that his friends at school lived a life of privilege that she just could not match.

As her kids got older she would eventually quit her second job, but even as the load from her tired shoulders lessened her discipline remained in tact. She continued to live a simple life. She forced herself to save and eventually fulfilled her dream of owning a home and did so on her own terms. Now 66 years young, all of Victoria’s
hard work has paid off in spades. Victoria, my mom will finally be able to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Her house is almost paid off and she owns her 2007 Toyota Solara out right. She never believed in living a leveraged lifestyle and if she were in Congress today she would argue to lower the debt ceiling rather than raising it.

People like Victoria are among the unsung heroes that we rarely hear about. Stories like hers are not only inspirational but also remind us that the possibilities within our own lives can often exceed the circumstances in which we've been dealt. To me, however she’s mom. All that I am today is because of her and all of the lessons both taught and observed will be an integral part of what I will become and when all is said and done -I can only hope to be able to live a life as meaningful as the way hers has been thus far. Happy travels Mama! Enjoy sleeping in, enjoy being your number one priority and enjoy not doing anything at all if you don’t want to. You have quietly touched and inspired the lives of so many and this world is a better place because of you!
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