Archive for February, 2018

Regaining My Power: Gritty as Pudding

I finished reading Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit. In it, there’s a quiz to see how gritty you are. I come up as approximately pudding level. Not that she would ever describe it that way.

The caveat attached to the test noting that this is how you feel about yourself at this very moment in time was very interesting. Your score may well have changed from the past and she goes on to outline how you can change it for the future. While I am pudding at the moment, I didn’t used to be that way. Anyone who knew me really through my mid-twenties could confirm that I had one of the things that made up grit. Passion. An interest in something that was bordering on obsessive. To the point that one job interviewer asked that I tell her about a time when . . . and this time not use horses as an example. Hey, if you want me to tell you about overcoming obstacles and going above and beyond? Work examples are not going to be my defining moments. I’d get up at 4 am to braid for a horse show even if I wasn’t riding. I have never, ever been willing to get up at 4 am for a job.

This passion, this purpose to my life then gave rise to the other half of grit. Perseverance. The willingness to do whatever it takes to move forward and grow in pursuit of my passion. She quotes a Japanese saying, “Fall seven, rise eight.” I’ve been thrown from horses, stepped on, bitten, kicked, knocked into the mud, and placed last in shows more than seven times, but for years I always got up one more time than I was knocked flat.

That’s not how pudding behaves, so what happened? It wasn’t sudden. I can’t point to the second Tuesday in March of a specific year as my pudding date. There were little things. I had to sell my mare. It was coming down to paying my rent or hers and while I think she would have been ok with me moving in with her, my employer at the time would not have been. I got thrown from a couple of horses and literally couldn’t get up, I’d gotten injured. I started working for a company that had a very specific image of itself and since I’d decided to play it safe and go the corporate route, I went about trying to reshape myself into that image. I tried my hand at a couple of other physical pursuits, but I broke my knee in martial arts and never quite made it back. Ballroom dancing suffered from the same problem as horses, it’s terribly expensive and at a certain level it really, really sucks to not have a partner. Of course that one was interesting, since I had to switch from being the brains of the pair with my horse background to being the beauty of the pair. That transition taught me a lot about myself.

Somewhere along the way I realized that the dream I’d always had of having a farm was just that, a dream. It was never actually going to manifest. I lost horses, too, in a more general sense. I can’t afford lessons, and even if I could I know how hard life is for the “heavy rider” lesson horses and I can’t do that to them. Not when I know in my heart of hearts that I’ll never get beyond that level again. The corporate route failed for me; it really doesn’t have much interest in subject matter experts that don’t care to climb the corporate ladder. Then having a job in general failed for me, when being employed full time far more often than not really didn’t cover the bills. I would love to take up dancing again, but being a single female ballroom dancer, particularly in a strange town, sucks. None of these support a bigger picture anymore. There’s no longer a bigger picture to support.

So here I am, a bowl of pudding, wondering where I once got the energy to work full time, help out at a barn, do martial arts, and dance all at the same time.

According to Grit, effort counts twice in the equation. Talent is a great start, if you have it, but it’s talent times effort that makes skill. Skills are great, once you have them, but it’s skill times effort that causes achievement. This is why it’s so possible for wildly talented people to fail and untalented people to wildly succeed. I, personally, probably land somewhat in what she calls the “fragile perfect” group of people. These are the people that are talented enough to skate through most of life doing relatively well without much effort. That was certainly the case in most of school. It sounds like a great thing, until the fragile perfect hits some sort of major bump/detour/challenge. If you haven’t been thrown against increasingly more challenging tasks, ones that demand a stretching of who you are, those serious challenges come as a shock. Getting bucked off a horse wasn’t that big of a deal. I knew how to fall and I was always able to get back on right away. When a buck ended in a broken collarbone which grounded me for weeks, all of a sudden I was faced with whether or not I really wanted to get back on at all. This was no longer within the boundaries of what I knew I could handle. I hadn’t been learning how to push those boundaries outward, so they started moving inward.

Now that we know why I’m pudding, and why that’s a bad thing, the next step will be to talk about how to change it. How do I move up the scale toward Rocky Road? Yeah, it involves being a little nuts.

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Injured in America

I broke my ankle. It’s winter, which means ice and snow in Maine. Thanks to that wonder, Climate Change, it’s more ice than snow this year. I stepped on what I thought was snow that would give me footing. It wasn’t. I went down hard. I didn’t look at my foot, but according to the EMTs, it was laying at an abnormal angle.

I have insurance, luckily, so this is only a mildly horrifying story, instead of a really horrifying one. But in order to limit the damage to my $14 per hour income, since I’m generally in good health, I picked the high deductible plan.

I’ve been out of work for a month now. Luckily, my employer does offer short-term disability pay at full pay, which is apparently unusually generous. I do not, however, qualify for federal protection of my job since I haven’t been employed there for a year. I had been doing the job for 10 days short of a year when I got hurt, but since the first four months were as a temp employee, that doesn’t count as working there. Human Resources has confirmed that my job will be safe as long as I don’t stay out longer than “an ankle usually takes to heal.”

As it is tax season, and I’m not able to do much else, I got that out of the way. It also gave me some good information. Last year, I made $30,300.03. My health insurance deductible is $5,500. That’s 18.15% of my pre-tax income and does not include my premiums. My after-tax income, after adjusting for my tax returns, was $24,613.68. That bumps the deductible up to 22.35% or $211.54 per $946.68 bi-weekly paycheck.

Let’s think a little bit further about this. I don’t pay rent because I can’t afford to if I’m going to be making any other financial progress in my life, but if I did, we’re told to budget about 30% of our income for that. That’s $284 per paycheck (after tax, since that’s what I actually have to work with) and I’m only able to rent a room for that amount. My commuting/car expenses average about $384 per month last year, or about $192 per paycheck. (Ouch, tires are expensive even over 12 months.) I spend $50 per month on my cell phone, $25 per paycheck. Last year I spent about $60 per month on primarily work clothes, or $30 per paycheck. The food I purchased was about $300 per month, or $150 per paycheck. The total for not very extravagant living expenses comes to $681 per paycheck. Adding in my health insurance premiums of about $36 per paycheck brings me to $717.

946.68  total after-tax income -717.00  basic living expenses = 229.68 – 211.54 to cover my annual deductible = $18.14

This tells me that on average, after covering my basic living expenses and my healthcare deductible, I am left with less than $20 per month to cover electric bills, internet bills, random book purchases, extra gas because I want to go to the fair, and any random awshit that might crop up. Like being out of work for a month with a broken ankle if my employer didn’t cover short-term disability pay.

But, hey, once I’ve been there for a year, my company will match if I put 6% of my income into my 401(k). Because I have $70 to spare from each paycheck to set aside for retirement.

My doctor’s sister apparently broke her ankle recently, but she’s living in Canada. She told him coming down was too far, but I have to wonder if she also didn’t want to end up paying two or three months’ income for the pleasure of American healthcare.

What the Health Documentary

I’m rather torn about this one. I really, really disagree with the final assessment that going vegan will fix everything, but the research inditing the food industry is impressive. The commercial meat and pharmaceutical industries are terrible and the people that should be protecting us from dangerous food and practices are in the pockets of the companies we need to be protected from.

American medicine works on the disease model. In other words, you get sick and go to the doctor to be treated. We don’t go to the doctor to learn how to prevent getting sick in the first place. I, and the documentary, really don’t blame doctors for this. Between having no time with patients, patients that only come in when they’re sick, and never actually being taught that what you eat can do you good or harm, modern American doctors aren’t in a position to be able to prevent disease. This, of course, works very well for the pharmaceutical industry. If you don’t ever fix the problem then you may well be medicated for the rest of your life. Each of those medications that you take has a profit margin. Unfortunately, according to the documentary, the folks in charge of deciding what doctors learn appear to be actively opposed to changing this and teaching nutrition.

There is, actually, an up side to doctors not providing nutritional advice. If they did, there are a limited number of options they can give without risking being called a nut job and being sued for bad advice. The first place they always turn is to the current food pyramid which is created every five years by the US Diatary Advisory Comittee. This committee is made up of folks who have taken money from one or more of the following: McDonalds, Kraft, Mars, Dannon, the beef industry, the egg industry, the dairy industry, and Anheiser Busch. I’m not really sure why a beer company felt the need to contribute, but I’m sure they had their reasons.

Of course, it isn’t really any sort of secret anymore that government is run for and by big business, so let’s look at non-governmental bodies who care about our health. If you can wade through enough pages, the American Diabetes Association promises to give you food tips to help manage your blood sugar. I’m sure they aren’t influenced by the money the group gets from Dannon, Kraft, or Bumblebee. According to the documentary, chicken is actually the worst meat for carcinogens since we eat it far and away more than any other. Surely the American Cancer Society . . . Oh, they take money from Tyson and Yum who owns KFC. The American Heart Association is totally against red meat and cholesterol. There’s no way their beef recipes in the healthy eating section are influenced by the income from pretty much every beef congress in the country, along with Tyson, Subway, and Domino’s Pizza. (I am having a hard time finding their list of corporate sponsors to link.) As a last ditch effort, surely Susan B. Komen, that pure, pink bastion of cancer research and cure effort can be trusted to only put their stamp on things that are good for you! Like Dietz & Watson, makers of processed deli meats which are a Group 1 carcinogen like cigarettes. (They aren’t actually equivalent, but they are in the same group.)

Then there’s the direct influence that the big food companies have on government. The meat and dairy industries apparently disclose spending $138 million annually on lobbying. This has resulted in things like ag-gag laws where you risk being branded a terrorist if you record the current state of corporate animal husbandry and share it. It is, of course, the big companies that enforce it, not your neighbor with 75 laying hens and a milk cow. I’m sure they don’t have a single thing to hide behind a law like that, right? That amount actually pales in comparison to what the pharmaceutical industry spends. At $238 billion annually, they spend almost twice what the oil and gas lobbyists spend. I can’t be the only one that finds that frightening.

They do go through the usual song and dance about us not being carnivorous apes and being anatomically frugivores. And, of course, if you have trouble with a veg*n diet it’s not because there’s anything wrong with the diet, but you’re obviously doing something wrong. What I can go along with is that there are major changes in people’s bodies within the first couple of weeks of going vegan. Positive changes. That actually makes a lot of sense if you’re pulling someone off a standard American diet. All of a sudden the body is being given fiber and vitamins. It’s being given the building blocks of life instead of fast food and soda. This is no different than feeling better on a juice diet or fasting. It’s being given a break from the daily abuse it’s been absorbing. What I have to wonder, though, is if a veg*n diet is being used in place of medication and one is expected to then be veg*n for the rest of one’s life, is this really different than being medicated for the rest of your life?

In the end, the documentary leaves me impressed with the facts that support their final conclusion, I just think they came to the wrong conclusion. Get off the standard American diet, eat more vegetables, think about where your food comes from and who is paying the people that are telling you what to eat. Just look at all of your options before you decide exactly which whole foods diet actually makes sense to you.