Life Skill #58: How to Stay Married

Let me get this out of the way: I’ve never been married. So I have no expertise at all on this matter. But, I will qualify by saying, just being good at something doesn’t mean you’ll be able to teach something. Also, this is the internet so take everything with a grain (or shaker!) of salt. I have no idea what I’m talking about – this is all conjecture. I’ll admit it up front.

My ex-fiance and I had read lots of books about marriage and taken premarital counseling. My parents and my ex’s parents never took premarital counseling. None of them were great communicators. They all argued and complained more than they perhaps should. My parents have been happily married for almost 40 years. My ex’s parents had an acrimonious divorce when he was a kid.

The same type of marriage yielded vastly different results. Granted, my parents’ marriage is never something that will be held up in relationship books as ideal but it works well enough for them. And for better, and likely worse, this is my model for a working marriage. I realized today, while refereeing a tiff between my parents, that this model is something my ex-fiance thought would lead to a very unhappy marriage. He wanted us to be better than our parents. Based on his worldview, this type of marriage would not end well.

I catch myself often when dating figuring out what are real dealbreakers and what are things that are just odd or novel to me. We can all understand that people face the world with their own preconceived notions of how things should work, particularly in relationships. We can all understand that we are ourselves colored by our childhood experiences. But coming to believe that my partner’s viewpoint is as valid as mine – that is not something I understand how to do yet.

What I’ve found to be the most meaningful marriage advice for me came from Will Smith, the actor, married 17 years.

“If there is a secret I would say it is that we never went into working on our relationship. We only ever worked on ourselves individually. And then presented ourselves to one another better than we were previously.”

So often in relationships, we think about what can be changed about the other person. We think about designing the perfect mate for ourselves. It’s a beautiful thing to realize that if there’s an argument, if there’s an obstacle, an impediment in their marriage, that the Smiths are focused on what they can actually change: themselves.

And then you just have to hope that the other person will stay. The more I think about marriage, the more I consider it to be quite a risky endeavor. This is not to say people shouldn’t take the risk. The advantages are sky high. But it’s like starting a business. You can put in a lot of work but the role of luck should not be underestimated.

But let me hear from you: what are the actual secrets to staying married?

Life skill #30: 7 Foods that make it easy to cook from home

*I’m beginning a series to teach life skills every adult should have.

Ideally, you would have gone to the grocery store and have tons of fresh veggies and defrosted meat at home. Or you would have prepped something and put it in your crockpot in the morning, ready for you when you get home. But most of us are not superhumans.

We know there are so many reasons to cook at home, from cost and time savings to health, improving your cooking skills, to being able to eat and relax in your own home with your loved ones. But there’s also quite a case for ordering takeout. After an exhausting day at work and facing the daunting tasks of grocery shopping, meal planning and washing dishes, and with options like Seamless at our fingertips, it can be hard to avoid the siren call of takeout or delivery. But after you have that meal, you’re really just setting yourself up for more days of Seamless delivery, and the food isn’t even that good. You know that you can make something just as good and twice as healthy by yourself but who has the time?

The secret to picking cooking over takeout is to make it as easy as possible to cook (and also hating all your takeout and delivery options) by having your kitchen stocked with ingredients to make quick and easy meals. They are all foods that you can keep in your pantry, fridge or freezer for weeks and you’ll be happy to have them the next time you are in a jam. Here are seven foods that will help you avoid Seamless.

  1. Proteins that doesn’t need to be defrosted

Chicken and pork are quintessential dinner foods. However, they require

advance planning. You can defrost a chicken in a water bath but that’s just extra effort that will make you give up and run to the safety of your apps. What will be less stressful is having foods that quickly defrost or don’t need to be defrosted before cooking – meats like shrimp, hamburgers, turkey and fish burgers can be stored in your freezer for awhile. Tofu and eggs can sit in your fridge for awhile. You can keep canned meats in your pantry, like sardines, anchovies, spam, salmon, tuna. You can just put these meats in the oven or fry them up fairly quickly. Serve with leftover grains or cook with fresh or frozen vegetables. It’s an easy and simple meal planning. The hardest part often is figuring out what to eat. And sometimes figuring out what the meat is solves most of the planning stress. What you’ll get at a restaurant is really just a meat on grains or salad anyway.

 

  1. Spices

It’s hard to have fresh spice on hand at all times so dried spices are a must for

impromptu meals. Salt and pepper are givens. A bit of hard parmesan will keep

in your fridge for awhile and will make your last minute pastas taste that much more special. A little vinegar can add needed acid to your dish. You can roast the frozen vegetables like brussel sprouts with dried rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil. Without proper spices, your meal will seem much more bland and unappetizing. With proper use of spices, possibly even some garnishes if you have them, will give you a restaurant-quality meal.

 

  1. Grains

Of all the things on this list, this item is most likely already to be in your pantry. Buying grains in bullk has always made good sense because they can store well. Rice, quinoa and pasta are great bases for meals and they keep well for a long

time. Add some of the other foods on this list and make a hearty pasta dish (shrimp, spices and frozen vegetables)

 

  1. Frozen or canned vegetables

Because sometimes you don’t have fresh vegetables on hand or they’ve all

gone bad. Frozen vegetables can be just as healthy as fresh because they’re picked at the peak of their ripeness. Plus they add the convenience that they can just stick around. Frozen spinach, broccoli, peas and carrots are great for stirfries. You can add the stock to make a great sauce. Frozen onions can be added to pastas. Frozen peppers can be used for a frittata or omelet.

 

  1. Frozen fruits

A smoothie can be a healthy if unexpected option for dinner. If you have some bananas going bad, peel them and put them in a freezer bag and freeze them. Add some frozen fruits. You can also use some of the other ingredients on this list to make a great smoothie. Add spices like turmeric, frozen spinach. The great thing is all you need to do except put in everything in a blender and you have a healthy easy option. I also like to add vitamins and supplements that I hate eating into my smoothies to make them healthier. I like adding new age ingredients like maca, turmeric, ashwandagah, chlorophyll, collagen peptides or opening vitamin pills into the smoothie. The best thing is that this dinner doubles as a dessert.

 

  1. Prepared meals

The cheapest way to do this is to make bulk servings of food in advance,

freeze them and defrost when needed. But there’s nothing wrong with buying the occasional frozen pizza or frozen dinner on hand. Even some ramen every now and then won’t kill you. It might even be as healthy as going out to eat.

 

  1. Bone broth

Save your bones from a night when you were better at planning, put it in a crockpot with salt and pepper and bay leaves. Even after the first batch, you can freeze what you make and add additional water for a watered down second batch. Even this watered down second batch can give you the nutrients of collagen and is so much better than the broth or stock you buy at the store.

Bone broth is very versatile. You can just drink it straight, which can be very filling if you’re not that hungry. You can also use the broth when you’re cooking grains to add additional nutrients and flavor.

 

While it may still be daunting to start a quick meal after you’ve braved your work and your commute, soon you’ll be on autopilot. This will also be helpful when you get too tired to meal plan.

What foods do you keep in your kitchen for quick and easy dinners? What meals are the easiest to make last minute?

 

Note to Grads: Your Choices Now Determine Who You Will Be

Though my family grew up in New Jersey, my sister was a bandwagon Chicago Bulls fan. Can’t really blame her. Who didn’t like Mike? He was so much better than everyone else (including my beloved Knicks). What I didn’t learn until much later was that, once upon a time, he wasn’t the most amazing basketball player of all time.

As a sophomore in high school, he didn’t make the varsity team. Big whup, right? Well, it was a huge deal to him. Jordan would get into school well before the teachers to shoot baskets at his gym every day of the year. He made the team his junior year and became a star player, which led to college recruitment and the NBA.

Can you imagine if you had rebounded from a failure so seriously as a sophomore in high school that you worked every day for hours to get better? Where would you be now?

The stories about Michael Jordan’s intensity during practices are legendary. I heard that he once slapped Steve Kerr because he wasn’t dribbling properly. In practice.

And while watching Michael Jordan play made it seem like it was all effortless God-given talent, it was really a ferocious practice schedule and decades of daily concerted effort away from fans and photogs that made him great. He pushed himself everyday. He got better everyday. Soon, the other players couldn’t match him.

 

Your 20s matter

I’ve heard people say that your 20s don’t matter. That’s insane. How can a decade, or approximately 1/7 of your entire lifespan, not matter at all, particularly one so early in your life? I mean, when will your life start to matter if not now?

Yes, you have room for error because you have fewer responsibilities, but your 20s are the decade where you create the foundation for the rest of your adult life. Do you start it off tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt or with a savings account? Do you continue to build your education and skills, travel the world, take care of your health, start lasting and significant friendships and mentorships? It’s much harder to start fresh when you hit 30 if you’ve wasted your 20s.

Your 20s are 3,650 24-hour chances to make progress towards your goals.

No Zero Days

When I think all is hopeless and I’ll never become anything, I look at this – the best thing that’s ever happened on Reddit – Ryans01’s comment on non-zero days:

Rule numero uno – There are no more zero days. What’s a zero day? A zero day is when you don’t do a single fucking thing towards whatever dream or goal or want or whatever that you got going on. No more zeros. I’m not saying you gotta bust an essay out everyday, that’s not the point. The point I’m trying to make is that you have to make yourself, promise yourself, that the new SYSTEM you live in is a NON-ZERO system. Didnt’ do anything all fucking day and it’s 11:58 PM? Write one sentence. One pushup. Read one page of that chapter. One. Because one is non zero. You feel me? When you’re in the super vortex of being bummed your pattern of behaviour is keeping the vortex goin, that’s what you’re used to. Turning into productivity ultimate master of the universe doesn’t happen from the vortex. It happens from a massive string of CONSISTENT NON ZEROS. That’s rule number one. Do not forget.

It’s only in my 30s that I’ve discovered how important these little decisions we make everyday are. It’s this consistent small effort that make habits that make progress. The progress is what kinds of people we become.

Education

For example, it can often seem insurmountable to learn a language or to learn enough a topic to get familiar with it. It seems like the only way to make headway is to fully immerse yourself and who has time for that? Actually though, if you learn a little bit everyday, you start to know a lot.

Consider the alternative. This lady mentioned she didn’t know the names of Obama’s daughters. Now, I’m from D.C. but I understand that other people might not care enough to learn their names. It’s trivia at best. But this lady then goes into this tirade about why should she waste her time learning their names when she’s so busy with other things. What I found most interesting was how often this particularly tirade came up with her. Why should I learn about what’s going on in the news? How to cook? How to navigate around a city? The list was endless. As a consequence, she was 29 years old and the depths of her lack of knowledge were boundless. I imagine I would have been the same way if I had put up a big wall against learning after the age of …I don’t know…8 years old? Now you get into a conversation about nearly anything with this lady and she won’t be able to converse knowledgeably about the topic. This is the accumulation of a million little choices not to learn.

Finance

A similar thing goes for finances. I read this exercise in the book Financially Fearless by 40 by Jason Anthony. He asks you to add up your salaries for 10 years and then try to figure out where it went. Now I was 23 at the time and I was frugal AF so I knew pretty much where all my salary went. But as a new grad, if you start with say, $40,000 income post-tax and assume some raises over that time, you’ll have made about $600,000 in a 10 year time frame. That seems like a lot of money! Where is that money going to go? Well if you eat out for every meal everyday for 10 years at a cost of approximately $10/meal, that’s $100,000.

Can you imagine being 32 years old, living paycheck to paycheck and just realizing you’ve mindlessly spent 1/6 of your earnings, SIX FIGURES OF EARNINGS, just eating fast food?

I mean yes, $10 once isn’t that big a deal but over time, it really adds up. While you were waiting in line at Cosi, your colleague is eating her homemade lunch.  She started grocery shopping and cooking more, maybe spending only $40,000 on food (including some going out) over 10 years. That person now has $60,000 more than you, enough for a down payment on a house, as well as 10 years developing as a cook and food shopper. She’s probably also healthier because she controls the food that goes into her meal. This just from a simple decision not to eat out.

Extrapolate for a few more decades and the gap between you two becomes wider as she becomes a more efficient cook and the cost of going out increases. In 30 more years, she’s a great cook and can retire early and you’re still in line at Cosi!

Myself

I’m almost 12 years out of college and I have started seeing how I am the sum of my choices. My friend told me that when you turn 30 your body just turns to crap. I was 29 at the time so this was not welcome news. She was very active and the years of stress on her body were starting to add up. That’s what happens with small decisions – they always add up.

Now let me backtrack and say it’s certainly not too late to start. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past – it matters what you’re doing today, doing now. You are currently charting the cost of your future day by day, hour by hour, second by second. You’re either getting stronger or weaker. You’re creating a platform to jump off of or you’re staying on the ground.

I am what I think. I am what I eat. I am the TV shows I watch. I am the books I read. I am the people I spend time with. I am the 10 mile bike ride I do everyday. I am the skills I’ve learned. I am the kindness that I exhibit. I am the work that I do.

I am my choices.

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Image via Giphy

101 Life Skills Every Adult Needs to Know (that save money too)

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I recently went on a vacation with millenials (save yourselves!). Now, I’m under 35 but these were the fabled millenials they talk about in the media – the ones that are entitled and have no useful skills. They were all in medical school but they had never traveled anywhere by themselves. That didn’t seem like it would make them all that different from me but they didn’t know how to do basic things that I learned when I was a kid.  They didn’t know how to navigate to our AirBnB by themselves, they couldn’t figure out public transportation and didn’t seem to have a basic grasp of staying safe in a big city.

It got me to thinking, what kinds of skills would I expect someone in their 20s or 30s – someone we would consider an adult – have? I started coming up with a list and it’s quite extensive. I can do most of these to some degree but I’m excited to become more proficient in each of them and I’m going to start a series teaching all of the skills on the list. If you have a new grad or new adult in your life, please have them tune in – or tune in yourself! I’m going to research so I’m not just talking about my own experience.

What other skills would you add to this list? Which would you take off?

Career Network
Career Find and apply for a job
Career Give a great interview
Career Write a thank you note
Career Negotiate
Career Give a presentation
Career Write and edit effectively
Career Do great at your job
Career Ask for a raise
Career Troubleshoot your job
Career How to lead and manage people
Communication Fight fair
Communication Empathize
Communication Teach something
Communication Apologize
Communication Be a great conversationalist
Communication Give a compliment
Communication Give constructive feedback
Communication Persuade someone
Communication Talk about politics
Community Be eco friendly
Community Be politically active
Community Host a party
Community When to lead a revolt
Community Be a part of your community
Creative Read or play or create music
Creative Appreciate art
Creative Dance
Creative Take a decent picture
Food Cook when you’re tired
Food Cook on a budget
Food Shop for food
Food Eat a diet that works for you
Health Talk to a doctor
Health Get your vitamins
Health Basic first aid.
Health Mental health
Health Exercise
Health Stretch
Health Have safe and great sex
Health Basic preventative care
Health Manage stress
Home/car Clean your house
Home/car Fix stuff
Home/car Take care of a plant
Home/car Buy a car
Home/car Know how to buy a house (even if you never will)
Home/car Maintain your car
Home/car What to do if you get pulled over
Home/car What to do if you’re in an accident
Home/car Take care of your clothes (fix a button, adjust your hems, avoid dryers)
Home/car Build a wardrobe
Home/car Decorate your house on a budget
Interpersonal Meet people
Interpersonal How to be a friend
Interpersonal How to judge other people
Interpersonal How to choose a partner for marriage
Interpersonal How to stay married
Interpersonal Babysit
Interpersonal How to pick, wrap and give gifts
Interpersonal How to ask someone out on a date
Interpersonal How to break up with someone/handle a breakup
Interpersonal Let go of a grudge
Knowledge How to think critically about the media
Knowledge Basic history
Knowledge Basic geography
Knowledge Learn your family’s history
Legal/safety End of life care
Legal/safety What to do if you’re talking to the police
Legal/safety What to do if you’re the victim of a crime
Legal/safety Learn self-defense.
Math/money File your taxes
Math/money Understand your health care policy
Math/money Get proper insurance
Math/money Live below your means
Math/money Understand debt/credit
Math/money Invest and save for retirement.
Math/money Give to charity.
Math/money Do basic math (calculate a tip, unit price)
Self improvement Handle failure
Self improvement Develop character
Self improvement Take notes
Self improvement Endure difficulty or pain
Self improvement Travel
Self improvement Pursue goals.
Self improvement Accept feedback
Self improvement Put someone else before yourself
Self improvement Be ok being alone
Self improvement Deal with burnout
Self improvement Deal with grief
Self improvement Manage your time
Self improvement Find meaning in your life
Self improvement Accept aging
Self improvement Set boundaries
Self improvement Forgive your parents
Self improvement Know who you are
Self improvement Create a life you love
Tech/luddite Protect your privacy
Tech/luddite Troubleshoot common electronic problems
Tech/luddite Navigate to your home without GPS
Tech/luddite Use social media

How to Buy Clothes You Love

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The most important lesson I learned from Marie Kondo’s “get rid of what doesn’t spark joy” movement is that one can’t go through the multi-day purge without being more mindful of what’s coming back in. When shopping, it’s always in the front of your mind that this might just become more clutter. But it can be hard to go from mindless shopping to mindful shopping. Here are some tips I’ve found to make the transition from mindless shopping to consistently buying what you love, at least for your wardrobe.

1. Assess your current inventory

If you’ve done the Marie Kondo decluttering method, you should have culled your inventory into something manageable enough for you to know basically everything you own. If it’s your wardrobe, you can see all the things you like and wear often and all the things you want to have to complete outfits. Don’t just mindlessly shop for things – keep your eyes focused on the holds in your wardrobe rather than the stuff you gravitate towards but already have.

2. Judge against what you have

Remember that your stuff is a family and bringing a new product in is like bringing a new boyfriend in. You have to think about how the new guy is going to fit in. You’ve cleared away the chaff in your wardrobe and now you know what the lowest standard of acceptability for your wardrobe is. Every new item of clothing you consider Ask yourself the following questions and only buy what passes the test. Otherwise, you’re bringing in more stuff that won’t pass the next purge.

  1. Do I like this as much or better than the clothes I already have?
  2. Will this be as useful to me than the clothes I already have?
  3. Will this item fit in with the clothes I already have?

3. Search for better and cheaper alternatives.

Even if you find something you like, you have to remember that now every product you bring home is something that you may have in your house for years.  And with that kind of commitment, you should love the product. And in order to know you love something, you really should search to see what else is out there.

Try searching for similar items on Google search, Shopstyle or eBay. Maybe you found a great red dress at The Gap, but a dress you love is available at Banana Republic for a similar price, and maybe you regret your purchase if you found out about the second dress. But be careful – remember that eBay may be cheaper but it may be difficult to return items.

4. Try stuff in the store if possible. Return what you don’t want.

The problem with shopping online is that the product worms its way into your house and it becomes another errand for you to return, rather than it being a burden for you to buy the product and bring it home.

Remember that your house is a sacred place. Be adamant about getting rid of things you don’t want as soon as possible at the highest value you can still get. If you are forgetful at returning things, then either train yourself to be better, shop at places that are so cheap that the cost won’t affect you or that you can sell easily for approximately the cost you paid (i.e. Goodwill) or only shop at stores with excellent return policies.

Remember that the Marie Kondo method isn’t a one-and-one. It requires constant vigilance to ensure that clutter doesn’t make its way back to your wardrobe or your home. But if you follow these steps, you’re much more likely to bring in mor things you love, so that you can keep getting dressed with ease and style.

 

6 Month Anniversary

Today is the 6 month anniversary of my broken engagement. It was the day before my birthday because I didn’t want to go into my birthday not knowing. So the anniversary is clear in my head.

Like the type-A nutjob that I had, I had given myself a deadline to “get better.” It was 6 months. So now that I’ve reached the deadline – no more Mr. Nice Me. No more sleeping in. No more crying in bed. In an effort to help my goals, I’m plunging into meeting new people. I’ve started rock climbing. The weather has gotten nice and I’m biking to work more regularly. I’ve joined some meetups. I’m trying to attend a new bible study (because mine will likely end soon and this one will hopefully be closer). I’m networking on LinkedIn and Twitter. I joined Bumble yesterday but mostly to have someone to talk to. B has cut off contact mostly. I need to stop talking to my ex, who has his own girlfriend. I feel like a great burden on my friends. I do need to reach out to my therapist again. I saw someone on Craigslist that posted that she just wanted to hear about someone else’s problems to distract her from her own. I wrote to her about mine and never heard back.

So you shouldn’t feel sorry for me because it’s time I stop feeling sorry for myself.

How Not to Use Money to Find Happiness

When reading Gary Keller’s “The One Thing,” he shared an ancient tale that really resonated with me. It’s about thinking of abundance and the pursuit of happiness.

The Begging Bowl

Upon coming out of his palace one morning and encountering a beggar, a king asks, “What do you want?” The beggar laughingly says, “You ask as though you can fulfill my desire!” Offended, the king replies, “Of course I can. What is it?” The beggar warns, “Think twice before you promise anything.”

Now, the beggar was no ordinary beggar but the king’s past-life master, who had promised in their former life, “I will come to try to wake you in our next life. This life you have missed, but I will come again to help you.”

The King, not recognizing his old friend, insisted, “I will fulfill anything you ask, for I am a very powerful king who can fulfill any desire.” The beggar said, “It is a very simple desire. Can you fill this begging bowl?” “Of course!” said the king, and he instructed his vizier to “Fill the mans begging bowl with money.” The vizier did, but when the money was poured into the bowl, it disappeared. So he poured more and more, but the moment he did, it would disappear.

The begging bowl remained empty.

Word spread throughout the kingdom, and a huge crowd gathered. The prestige and power of the king were at stake, so he told his vizier, “If my kingdom is to be lost, I am ready to lose it, but I cannot be defeated by this beggar.” He continued to empty his wealth into the bowl.

Diamonds, pearls, emeralds. His treasury was becoming empty.

And yet the begging bowl seemed bottomless. Everything put into it immediately disappeared!

Finally, as the crowd stood in utter silence, the king dropped at the beggar’s feet and admitted defeat. “You are victorious, but before you go, fulfill my curiosity. What is the secret of this begging bowl?”

The beggar humbly replied, ‘There is no secret. It is simply made up of human desire.”

What I get from this parable is that we will never be happy/satisfied/finished if we try to fulfill our wants. We have to seek something beyond desire.