April Review: What did I learn? What can I improve in May?

I have been looking forward to writing this post because I felt very good about April. Was it perfect? No. Have I learned everything I hoped to? Also no. Did I feel like I did my best? Yes.

Before I delve into the details of my April budget tracking, I would like to admit I only tracked until April 23rd. I had two reasons for this; neither really excused it. The first reason was that the final week in April proved to be emotionally difficult for me. The second was not emotional – it was practical: I ran out of room on my monthly log sheet.

The fact that I ran out of room 3 weeks in tells me that I make a lot of purchases. There are 51 lines to fill in and 30 days in April. From this, I’ve learned that I should try and consolidate my purchases to create less record keeping. This means not reflex-clicking “BUY NOW” on Amazon for even the smallest of purchases or allowing stress to direct me to junk food for instant gratification. (Stress eating being a whole different topic.)

Tracking my spending in April also made me think twice about what I spent my money on. Knowing I was committed to adding my purchases to the book held me accountable. My last credit card cycle was a lot lighter – approximately $500 less than the month before. I was also able to put some extra money into my savings account instead of having to draw from it to pay the bill.

In May I will continue this learning experience, with a more watchful eye on how many small purchases I make and also how stress affects my decision-making. It was gratifying to be able to consciously transfer money into my savings, above and beyond what is automatically deposited by my paycheck. I’d like to keep that good feeling rolling!

Social Media Influencers ~ Insipid or Inspiring?

An influencer is someone who has:

  • the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.
  • a following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages. The size of the following depends on the size of his/her topic of the niche.

It is important to note that these individuals are not merely marketing tools, but rather social relationship assets with which brands can collaborate to achieve their marketing objectives.

(Definition from Influencer Marketing Hub)

Back in 2015/2017, before I recall anyone using the word “influencer”, I worked at a fitness studio and much of my life was showcased on social media. The franchise I worked with encouraged us to post well and post often to cultivate what they referred to as the “know, like, and trust” factor. If people knew, liked, and trusted us, we could sell them anything.

That’s what social media influencers do – sell. Whether it is products or the idea of a lifestyle, the intent is to sell you on something.

Companies have gotten smarter over the years, realizing that people do not enjoy a sales pitch. It’s easy to scroll by ads but pause on people we may feel a similarity to. That is where social media influencers come into play – they bridge a gap between companies and consumers. If I have two young children and XXInstaJaneXX, who also has two children, swears that brand of laundry detergent basically washes, dries, and folds clothes for her…well, why wouldn’t I give it a go?

So, those are the product influencers. There are also “lifestyle influencers”. They are the ones who seem to always be on a lavish vacation or calmly sipping a latte in a quaint café. I am not entirely sure what they are selling, but the bottom line is that influencers are meant to influence us – whether it is to purchase a product or to desire a certain lifestyle.

What is she selling?

There are entire subreddits dedicated to bashing certain social media influencers. But here’s the thing – well, things:

(1) Be honest – who wouldn’t want the ability to be their weirdo self online while making money? Imagine having a loyal following that would allow you to make a positive impact on the world on a large scale. Imagine being able to work exactly when and where you want to, without a ‘boss’, per se.

(2) As long as we have a good sense of who we are and what we want, it is easy to scroll by content we don’t need without any emotional reaction. As in, every ripped post-workout photo wouldn’t make us feel insecure. Every travel post wouldn’t make us feel ferociously jealous that our current view may be an old postcard tacked up to the side of our cubicle. So, I don’t buy into the argument that influencers can cause self-esteem issues ~ we are responsible for ourselves.

(3) If we find amusement in an influencer or find that they inspire us to be better, more organized, more conscious of habits we would be better served without, that all sounds good. It is over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people remark that they have laughed significantly less lately. I follow one Instagram influencer because she posts about light topics and shares TikTok videos of her singing into the sprayer on her kitchen sink. It’s silly and I like it. She also posts links to products she likes and makes a commission off of the sale. Cool ~ but I am not being forced to buy anything.

We have the power to largely choose who and what we are influenced by. We cannot blame social media for whatever inadequacies we may be feeling at the moment or for our large credit card bill. What does it say about us if we mock or judge people for finding an alternative way to pay their bills in a hectic, stressful world?

Personal Reflection: Quitting and Mediocrity.

When I wrote the blogs about quitting and mediocrity, I had no idea that these questions would become extremely relevant in my life within just a few weeks.

Just a week and a half ago, I was a student pursuing my Bachelor’s degree at Purdue Global University. I was (and still am) a full time employee at a busy law firm with a family, animals, and various eclectic hobbies and interests. Academically I was doing extremely well, achieving a 4.0 in my first term with a projection of earning the same for the second. Despite being successful, it was hard to realize my success when I felt constantly tense, stressed, and anxious about the work I had to do.

A typical work day was this: Wake up – Shower – Get ready for work – Pick up the downstairs – School work for 30-40 min – Drive to work – Work 8-8.5 hours – Come home and visit with the dogs and family – Dinner – School work or seminar (depending on the day) for 2-3 hours – Bed.

A typical weekend day was: Wake up – Pick up the house – School work for 3-6 hours – Bike ride – Couch/Netflix.

I had to have an honest discussion with myself; the main questions being: Is this what I want my life to be like for the next 4 years? Is this lifestyle sustainable?

The answer was a resounding “No”.

This decision consumed me for days and I kept it to myself, feeling disappointed that after only 1.5 terms I was seriously considering calling it quits. I felt ashamed having to tell my family, my close friends, and a couple of colleagues that I did not wish to continue my education. That my goal had changed, yet again; another task to add to the list of things I’ve quit over my lifetime.

The thing is, I knew I could do the work. I was (and am) seriously proud of myself for maintaining high grades when I had not been a student in 17 years. To be blunt – I just kicked some serious ass in college and if my education was my only obligation, I could continue to excel and earn my 4.0s. When I started the program, I was concerned with my ability to do the work. Could I take effective notes? Could I manage multiple-choice questions (which I’ve never been good at); could I make the time to do the work? The answers to all of those questions were yes, yes, and yes!

Yet, I withdrew. The goal and the work involved was not suiting or serving me. The benefits of having my free time back to spend it with family, friends, and my hobbies far outweighed the benefits of obtaining my Bachelor’s and moving on to a Master’s program or to law school. My “mediocre” and largely predictable life is actually exactly where I want to be. When it came to announcing my decision, I received nothing but support and love from everyone I shared the news with. My choice made a definitive statement as to where my priorities lie.

So, here is me today, my second full weekend being out of college. I have the entire weekend to work on things that fuel my soul. I have my weekday nights back. I have made regular exercise a priority again for my physical and mental health. I am happy; I am proud to be a quitter and an owner of a brilliantly mediocre and satisfying life.

Where’s the line between venting and toxicity?

Who hasn’t felt lighter after venting to a friend? Humans are not meant to be corked bottles; there are great mental, emotional, and physical health benefits in expressing our feelings and letting them out. In addition, our listener may provide clarity and perspective that we are unable to see while we are “in the moment”, thus helping us solve the problem.

Psychology Today, while it does not ignore the positive attributes of venting, indicates that the more we vent or complain, the better we may become at it (Seltzer, 2014). It could be easy to slip into the habit of venting instead of taking the action necessary to address the issue. In addition, repetitive venting may strain our relationships with others as the continuous exposure to another’s troubles can be emotionally taxing on the listener.

Image via Adobe stock

So, at what time does healthy venting turn toxic and unproductive?

The answer can be found if we honestly reflect on our words, actions, and thoughts.

Michele Farris with The Daily Positive states that as soon as our venting becomes toxic when it turns into personal attacks on others. Specifically, “Those who learn this type of behavior as children, may rely on it a way to get attention. Listening to family tell negative stories makes an impact on how we view conflict. These negative stories become almost entertaining, but unfortunately, at someone else’s expense.”

I found myself in this exact situation last week. I was venting about a frustrating behavior of another and realized that I had moved into petty, unrelated criticisms. The person I was speaking with was laughing and adding to it, finding amusement in my insults and negativity. It was unnecessary and guess what? My frustrations were still there, compounded by feelings of shame for acting like a high school mean girl. No problems were solved.

In addition to honestly assessing our words to others, it is also important to consider our own role in the story and responsibility to the situation. Did we say or do something that had a negative impact and helped create the annoying and stressful result? What could we have done better? Self-reflection may be the toughest part in defining where the line is between venting and toxicity, as it involves asking ourselves the hard questions and facing answers we may not like.

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References:

Seltzer, L. F., Ph.D. (2014, April 2). 6 Virtues, and 6 Vices, of Venting | Psychology Today. Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201404/6-virtues-and-6-vices-venting

Farris, M. (2019). How You Can Avoid Toxic Venting. Retrieved October 04, 2020, from https://www.thedailypositive.com/how-to-avoid-toxic-venting/