In 2011, gold reached an all-time high, and the American dollar, an all-time low. Diamond-prices increased last February, and will only be going up from there. There were natural disasters and global social unrest that stunned the world in 2011. But today is January 10, 2012. ALL of that is over. It's time, then, to look ahead as we face 12 new months to set personal, financial and professional goals that will move us FORWARD. 2011 felt like a year of back-tracking, missteps, and utter falls. 2012 doesn't have to be the same. There really is a choice. Even if it doesn't always feel like it.
The first step is assessment. Where do you want to be personally, financially and professionally in one year? Be realistic when you answer the question. Assess what you can do to acheive your goals--things you can accomplish over the next year--again, being realistic is key. I give my students a warm-up essay based on a quote by Gandhi about imagining your life without failure, except in my assignment, it's a question of realistically assessing what one might do given a year of guaranteed success. Ten days into 2012, you have the same benefit. Now, you just have to begin to imagine what to do with it.
Fear is a powerful enemy. An enemy we create ourselves. Others help it along, true, but ultimately, the choice is always ours in how we deal with it. Bad things can and do happen--with no rhyme or reason. It's not God punishing you. It's simply being a part of the human equation. We have sensitive psyches, fragile bodies--we can be broken in many different ways--and that makes us vulnerable to all kinds of pitfalls. BUT, it also makes us vulnerable to perfect joy. To feeling empowered and therefore, helping others feel the same way. To using our vulnerability to bring peace to some, courage to others. And most of all, using our humanity to move ourselves upward, onward, keeping pace as we traverse into the unknown. There is a great deal of fear, but cowering your way through life only brings misery. And that's a long journey to undertake in horror. Bravery is always the harder choice but if you put one foot in front of the other, even if scared, you will see yourself through even the worst of circumstances...and be all the better for it.
Make 2012 the year you recognize your fear and move forward anyway. Fear makes it difficult to see things clearly. So recognizing its influence on your life is an important first step in moving forward. From there, you can begin to set goals to make 2012 your best year yet!
Every month, you need to be able to see your progress toward your goals. If one of your goals is to save $10,000 in 2012--a reasonable goal if you're employed and have no debt--you will need to put about $800 in cash in a savings account each month for the next 12. That may mean changing your spending habits, or finding a part-time job to supplement your savings. Maybe $10,000 is too lofty a goal--about $400/month will see you $5,000-richer by 2013; $200/month will see you $2500 richer. Even if all you can afford to put aside is $50/month, over 12 months, you'll still be $600 richer than you are right now.
Saving money is one of the easiest ways to see how cumulative efforts can add up to positive change. But what about professional goals? That's not always as easy to add up.
If you're not happy with where you are in your career, nothing can change until you do. If you've been frustrated with the job market--which has been VERY frustrating since 2008--think of how you might use your body of skills differently. Maybe you'll need to take a few classes at your local community college, or hire a resume doctor to help you revamp your job materials. Regardless, if you do nothing, there can be no change. One of the best ways to test the employment waters is by CASTING A WIDE NET. What does that mean?
Essentially, you have to think outside of the box. If you've been applying to the same kinds of jobs with nary an interview in the last year, it's time to change your focus. Continue applying to every job that interests you, but try to see where else you might use your experience in this job market. Make an appointment with a career counselor at a local college. Find out what options may be available to a person with your education and experience. Get an assessment of what more you might need to enhance what you have for today's job market. DO NOT network with your friends. Your friends are most certainly in a similar position to you. You can let your friends know of your efforts; anyone who can help will offer. Otherwise, look to your professional circles to network and move forward; LinkedIn is a great resource to do this. Consider applying to jobs outside of your current city. Look at the employment pages of universities, colleges and hospitals or health centers. There are a myriad of broad-ranging jobs needed to make these employment hot-spots run. Your skill-set may fit better than you think. Another tip for professional change is to consider taking a lower-paying job in a company you want to work for. The idea of working your way up in the company may not be appealing, but in order to move anywhere in any company, you must first get your foot in the proverbial door. Shoot for finding and acting on 2-5 opportunities/week every week for at least 3/4 weeks each month in the next 12. If you do this, along with casting a wide net, getting some career advice and boning up on your education and experience, you WILL find that by 2013, you'll have made great strides toward acheiving professional change...and, success.
Personal change isn't as easy. Maybe you're goal is to get out of debt. That may seem like a financial goal, but if you're over-spending because your emotions--your fear--have taken over, it's personal. You may have had a bad stretch over the last several years. Maybe your health has taken a hit or three; perhaps you're one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who lost your job in 2008-2009 and haven't been able to get back into the earning game since. Maybe you've dealt with a family health crisis, depression, divorce, bankruptcy...any number of these viable reasons--alone or in combination--are solid reasons to have sustained debt-damage in the last 3-4 years. The first thing to do with revolving debt that is $10,000 or higher is to review your resources. Using things like low-interest, fixed bank loans to consolidate your debt and/or using retirement savings to pay it off or down are your first lines of defense. You cannot use cash savings if you're unemployed because you need to maintain whatever cushion you have--without a steady income, cannot replace it once gone. Look around your house, see what you can sell on eBay or Craig's List that might earn you some dollars to pay off your debt. That, and not spending. Everyone has to eat; if you're buying your groceries with a credit card that has a high balance because you would starve otherwise, it may be time to look into food stamps. Government programs may not be something you want to use, but if you've been unemployed for 3 or more years, you may have to.
If you worked for ten or more years prior to your unemployment, you contributed to government programs--just for this reason. Think of it as a stop-gap measure to keep you afloat without accumulating more debt. Your fiscal health and responsibility is worth the temporary hit to your ego. Life is long. Keep your debt short.
Things like student loans should be deferred if you're unemployed. Yes, you will accumulate interest but you can pay the interest while in deferrment--and that is much more afforable on say, $60,000 in student loans--about the average for 21st century students, which roughly equals $700/month in pay back over a ten-year period or $350/month over 20 years.
You can find more hints and tips on spending and savings under the "21st Century Etiquette Series," including how to deal with maintaining social connections while spending drastically less. But if you need a new car in 2012 and are on a fixed income or have no income, and if you have cash savings, use some of it for a downpayment on a used car with less than 35,000 miles. Something like a Hyundai offers economic options with warranties that are for 100,000 miles or ten years. Car insurance is less on used cars and though a lease is tempting, you have to put down $2,000 every 2-3 years to replace the car. Over a decade, that's $6,000 in down payments alone. If you put down $2,000 on a used car with less than 30,000-miles, you'll own the car in 5 and will enjoy no further payments for at least 3-5 years more. Over the course of a decade, that adds up to anywhere from $9,400-$13,000 in savings. Cha-ching!
Getting that pesky fear in check is not as easy; if that's the root of the blockade on your personal, financial and/or professional goals, it's time to find a good therapist to talk out your fear(s) on a weekly or monthly basis. Don't worry about people making you feel like you're crazy for seeking help; seeking help isn't crazy. Doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results is. Remove the obstacle and support your efforts by incorporating 60 minutes of cardio and strength training 6 days a week--you don't need to join a gym or take expensive classes. Turn on the radio and dance. Take a hike in a park. Walk in your neighborhood. Add a pair of 15-lb hand weights, and you're on your way to better physical AND emotional health for a $10 investment. Incorporate meditation; learn how by doing an internet-search. Start with 5 minutes of meditation a day, working your way up to 20 minutes over the next year. All for FREE. Your fear will be under control, and your life will follow.
No matter what you want to change in 2012, and no matter what your circumstance, you can move your life forward if you recognize your fear(s) and assess the actions needed to make positive change. Begin your journey toward getting richer, being happier, and acheiving career success. 2012 WILL BE a banner-year!
So what are you waiting for???