Saving for Retirement

Dearest Reader,

There comes a time in your young adulthood journey where someone points out that pensions are so 1985 and that you will not receive one. As a consequence, one is advised to draw up some financial plan that will help you maintain a great lifestyle in your old age, when you’re unemployed and pensionless.

I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about this recently. How can you plan for a future you don’t know, and for one you’re not even sure you’ll see?

For instance, I love travelling now, but with my increasing dislike for commuting and sitting in vehicles, maybe I will no longer enjoy it in the future. So perhaps I sacrifice travelling now to save money for future travels, only to find out I no longer want to travel!

Another example is property. If I was to make a decision today, I’d buy an apartment in the city. But perhaps, in my old days, I’ll have a spiritual epiphany and decide that I want to live in nature and live like our ancestors. In that case, the rigid and stressful experience of paying a mortgage would seem a waste of precious lifetime!

On the other hand, what if I decide to take up a ridiculously expensive hobby, such as golfing, and find out that 29-year-old-me did not foresee this and save up for it, so that as an old lady I can’t actually practise my newfound passion.

So how do I know?

Will I be the jam-making old lady, hosting the family and her 12 grandchildren every Sunday, and enjoy their support?

Will I be the judgemental lady in a small village who spends her days looking out of the window observing others, and then telling the neighbours all the gossip?

Will I be a jet-setting cougar who’ll need a lot of cash for her toy boys, botox and travels?

Will I be a lonely, grumpy cat lady living in a smelly apartment, with no family or purpose?

Will I have a romantic future, perhaps living on a vineyard with my husband of 40 years and writing stories about my life?

And how much do each of these scenarios cost?

Rather than saving an arbitrary amount for an unforeseeable future, wouldn’t it be much more helpful to be presented with such retirement packages and a corresponding price tag? Rather than spending years gambling with money and time, one could just focus on choosing one’s future, and save in a more goal-oriented manner.

But of course, that’s not how life works.

And perhaps, at the end of the day, I realise what I really want is not in any package, because perhaps I want to be a jam-making old lady who lives on a vineyard with her four cats and grumpily plays golf while gossiping about cougars.

Control Thy Emotions

Dearest Reader,

Let’s talk frankly here. Adulthood is all about acting like you have it together, even if deep inside you don’t wish to contribute to society. There are moments in life when you really just want to let it all out, like you used to, as a child.

For example, while I love seeing new places all around the world, I hate the journey itself. I live in Australia, which means that even if you sit on an airplane, patiently, for 9 hours…you’re still in Australia!

When I see a baby board a long-haul airplane, more than getting annoyed, I get jealous. Because one hour into the flight, I too am bored, uncomfortable and upset, and I don’t get to cry. I too want to scream and kick, and I want people to come and hug me and entertain me, I want to be fed and I want to get off this stinking plane. I no longer care that I should be in awe of the achievement of human flight, the privilege of being able to afford a trip or how fast I can travel around the world.

Alas, I can’t start crying because I have to pretend that I am a normal person who can endure 20+ hours of movies, tiny spaces, dry eyes and disgusting toilets with ease and calm. Because I’m an adult.

A similar situation occurs in shopping malls. I see something that I know I can’t afford, and I instantly want to throw myself to the ground and have an emotional outbreak at the injustice. Equally, when I see the lines at the changing room, or the female bathroom, or any other space that requires me to patiently wait for other humans to finish their business, I want to grab something and rip it into pieces while I shed countless tears in agony at the thought of not getting what I want right this moment.

But again. I’m an adult. I play it cool, not letting anyone see how much I am suffering at their whole being and at having to respect their needs, too.

Finally, the concept of sharing. I don’t like it.
I don’t like sharing my money with the electricity company, I don’t like sharing my dessert with others in restaurants, I don’t like sharing my time with my employer and I don’t like sharing my bed. Yet, these are all everyday adult duties. The greed that boils inside me must be suppressed at all times, so I share all my things with a laboured smile.

But at nightfall, I finally get to be in my house, all by myself. I get to use the toilet when I want without waiting, I get to eat all of the cookies without sharing, and I get to entertain myself in whichever way I please, and I may choose to do so while sitting, standing or lying in my cosy bed.

Yes, at home, I can be myself.  My real self. The one that stopped maturing when I was 5.

Because tomorrow, when this whole hell starts again, I have to walk out of my home composed, acting according to my official age.

Staff Room Banter

Dearest Reader,

What makes early adulthood so challenging is the number of problems, riddles and questions you’re asked to tackle, and doing so without any of the tools of experience or wisdom. As you progress, like in any job, you may become more equipped to face these challenges more elegantly than perhaps the first time, but that doesn’t help you right now, does it?

For instance, the job market. Quite frankly, nobody prepares you for this shit! Sure, they teach you that money is important, that you need to be enthusiastic and you can google your way through the average job interview. But once you’re in, well, you’re on your own.

Firstly, the hours we are required to work are incredibly difficult to get used to. I remember my first week working full-time, the standard 9-5, and I was utterly exhausted and asked the rest of society “How do you people do this every week for 40+ years!!”

Secondly, nobody tells you that you need to adapt your overall personality to your new environment. In the workplace, you must be friendly, humble, respectful and a team worker. The truth is, deep inside, dearest reader, we’re all selfish, lazy and moody bastards who want nothing to do with other people unless they do your work for you.

Lastly, small talk. Perhaps it is because I grew up in Germany, but I feel that a lot of this empty small talk business is a waste of time. When I walk into your office, or I call you, I obviously have something to ask or say to you; why bother with friendly banter when we are taught that time is money? What is more, you are expected to say something to each co-worker every day, and if you see them twice or three times, you need to say something new!

So at first, I used to throw in the classics:

How was your weekend?
Mondays, huh!
How are the kids?
Did you see that ridiculous email?
That’s a very lovely bag you have there. Where’s that from?
Is it 5 yet!!

But I quickly realised, that is not me. I can’t. I just.. can’t.

But I don’t want to be the anti-social person in the room who talks to nobody or robotically just talks whenever necessary to complete a transaction. Instead, I have simply decided to be talkative, but still be true to myself. And what do I do, dearest reader? I make observations. So nowadays, instead of classics, you’ll hear me say things like these:

-I see you’re wearing flowers today. 
-You have a very nice body. Big shoulders. Do you exercise much?
-I noticed you’re vegetarian. What do you eat for protein?
-You look great, you look like you never even had a child!
-Why do you have such a cylinder-shaped container like that for your lunch? Wouldn’t it be easier to have a normal one?
– Apparently, my latest Ultrasound shows that my right ovary is larger than the left. How are yours?
– Do you ever get tired of having tuna for lunch every day? Do you worry about mercury?

So, what’s the result of this? I’m the weird one in the staff room. But it doesn’t matter.
Because I don’t care about your weekend, I’d rather know more about you.

Don’t Jump Off the Bridge

Dearest Reader,

As you know, I take pleasure in observing society, its people and their fascinating behaviours. I could spend my whole day asking people why they do certain things, like wearing a FitBit, or getting tattoos, or keeping a fish in a bowl at home.

The answers to my questions are sometimes surprising, and sometimes predictable.

For example, I remember asking someone why they like Coldplay. They responded that everyone likes Coldplay. Later, I asked another person why they don’t like Coldplay, and their response was the same – because everyone likes Coldplay.

I asked someone why they are so enthusiastic about spin classes. They said they actually hate it, but because in ‘King of Queens’, Carrie goes to spin classes and because she looks amazing, it must be working.

My mother owns many things because there is some sort of list of things a good woman of the house must have in her home, like a rolling pin or aprons. And not just one apron, several aprons!

Men won’t use shower gels or shampoos unless they come in a bottle that looks like motor oil and says ‘for men’. Because deep inside is the fear that using anything that might be for females would immediately reduce the size of their most beloved genitals and perhaps trigger the growth of a uterus.

But if we don’t bake, why do we insist on having a rolling pin? If we hate spin classes, why don’t we do something else instead?

Well, dearest reader, I’m afraid it’s because of you and me. Society! Peer pressure!

I remember being a teenager and asking my parents to allow me to go to a party. Of course, they said no. As I cried “but everyone is going!!” their famous response was: “Well, if everyone jumps off a bridge, are you also going to jump?”

Evidence suggests we all would.

Just recently, I decided to take a stance. I decided to face one of my bridges. The bridge of beauty products.

Like any other woman led by her insecurities in a very beauty-critical society, my house has always been filled with products to hide or eliminate my imperfections. I have always had a night and a day cream for my face, because I read somewhere that your skin needs different nutrients at different times of the day.

Dearest reader, I cannot describe to you the anxiety when I accidentally used the night cream in the morning and vice versa, worrying about the effects on my skin. Will I get a rash? Will I age more quickly now? Will my skin know I did this??

My skin, it turns out, has no idea what time it is. It also doesn’t change persona at night, it’s the same skin all day long. And it really doesn’t need two creams – I threw out the night cream and decided to never buy one again. And my skin looks exactly the same. Let the others jump off the bridge into a sea filled of delicious-smelling night cream while I stay strong!

Dearest reader, I challenge you to pick a bridge in your life, and decide not to jump off.
Because adulthood is already too darn hard without all this extra fear.

Good luck!

Decisions

Dearest Reader,

Arguably, one of the most difficult things about adulthood is decision making.

It is almost impossible to get through a day without having to make decisions, and some of these actually keep us up at night because we worry about consequences and potentially irreversible mistakes, like accidental ingestion of questionable food that will shortly lead to a brand new bonding experience with one’s bathroom.

However, many decisions are actually not that significant and there is no need to waste precious moments or brain power. It has been an ongoing challenge for me to identify these and speed up these irritating tasks to free up time to do more fun things, like eating cookies or watching Gilmore Girls. I want to share some insights with you.

Decision 1: Which yoghurt should I buy?

There are almost an infinite number of yoghurt flavours and sizes with varying fat and probiotic content, and it can actually take a lot of time to choose. I will be honest; I am not sure what I’m actually looking for – are probiotics necessary? How much fat should a yoghurt have? Do I need to pay attention to sugar levels, preservatives and all the other things that are said to lead to a slow, painful death?

I quickly decided it is highly unlikely that a yoghurt will kill me or in any way impact my health significantly, so I went with ‘whatever is cheap’.

Decision 2: Should I exercise today?

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to weigh up.

Disadvantages of exercising: it’s exhausting, annoying, sweaty and boring

Disadvantages of not exercising: death

After careful consideration, I decided yes, let’s exercise.

Decision 3: Do I really need another beer?

The short answer is no. Nobody ‘needs’ a beer.

You never go to a doctor and hear them say: “M’am, you know what you need? You need a beer.”

The long answer is you’ll always find an excuse why you need another beer.
Because sometimes, dearest reader, your soul needs a beer.
And luckily, when you’re already kind of tipsy, decisions are made fast, irresponsibly and regardless of one’s financial situation. Cheers!

Decision 4: Do I want children?

Let me be frank with you, dearest reader. Take a good, hard look at our species.

How many of us do you think are truly the result of decisions, versus all of us who were accidents that our parents lovingly disguise as ‘surprises’, ‘miracles’ and ‘blessings’?

If we were to gather a bunch of parents into a room, got them heavily intoxicated and then asked them to be brutally honest about their family planning, wouldn’t we discover that shockingly, 1 out of 2 children were not decisions?

Regardless of whether this is actually true, it has been a liberating theory for me.
Your decision doesn’t matter, so why bother thinking about it?

Instead, just have another beer and relax!

 

The Weather

Dearest Reader,

It is common knowledge that speaking about the weather is a safe ice breaker when meeting any new person, simply because it is unlikely to offend anyone and everyone has something to say about it.

However, my parents, despite knowing me for almost 30 years, still start every phone conversation by telling me about the weather. It is fascinating.

With all the technology now available to us, I find it puzzling that I am still asked “so, what’s the weather like in Sydney?” every time I call.

What I really want to say is “Listen. I am calling you from Australia. I live in a big exciting city, I study, I work, I meet new people every day, isn’t there something else you’d like to ask me? Why don’t you type ‘Sydney weather’ into Google before I call?”

But of course, you can’t speak to your parents like that. They have given you their lives and patiently raised you, so even 29 years later, you politely report on the weather.

Technically this conversation wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t return the question. In passive-aggressive protest I have however decided years ago that I will not ask them back – and it kills them.

Once I have answered their question about the weather, I can hear the shivering desperation on the other line. I can sense their shaking hands, lip biting, sweat running down their foreheads. If they can’t tell me about all the temperature fluctuations, the humidity levels and how comfortable (or uncomfortable) it is to sleep in this weather, they will explode. But I stay strong. I will not let them have it. I will not waste precious lifetime discussing the weather with my parents. So I try to change the subject.

But here’s the thing. If my parents want to speak about the weather, they will coerce me into it any way they can. I’d like to share with you a typical conversation, dearest reader.

Me: So, how have you been?

Parent (doesn’t matter which): Well, let me tell you, I’m just dying in this heat!

Me: Oh really?  Have you been to the beach lately?

Parent: Well, we have to go to the beach to get out of this heat! It’s unbearable inside the house. You know it gets much hotter here in the valley area than down at the coast.

Me: Yes. So how is [random neighbour]?

Parent: He is devastated. Last year at this time it was raining and all the vegetables were growing, but this year there has been no rain and all the tomatoes are just frying in the sun. You know, tomatoes can’t grow in 38 degrees! That’s how hot it’s been!

Me: This is certainly true. How’s grandma?

Parent: Oh you know, with all this humidity her joints are aching. But it’s alright because we’ve installed a fan in her bedroom so she can get a good rest although it’s still like 25 degrees at night!

Me: That’s nice. How’s work?

[Note: Now I tricked them – here is the perfect temptation to complain about the government and ‘the crisis’ instead of the weather]

Parent (skillfully): Let me tell you, if there’s anything that has gotten worse than the heat in the last 5 years, it’s this crisis!

I rest my case.

Postgraduate Wisdom

Dearest Reader,

As you may know I am currently in my second postgraduate semester, and contrary to many fears I had before commencing this academic endeavour, I have actually been enjoying the whole experience.

One of the main reasons for this surprising delight is most probably due to my past experiences with studying, combined with a new sense of maturity that eventually hits you as you creep up to the 30s. Yes, there are some things I now know that I certainly didn’t as an inexperienced 18-year old, and I’d like to share some reflective wisdom with you, dearest reader, who may be thinking about also embarking on a similar academic journey.

Firstly, 10 years ago my diet was certainly different. Frozen ready meals for $3, cheap mystery meat and up to 5 cups of ‘grande’ coffees per day were all acceptable staples at the time. These things were all consumed hurriedly on the train, either on my way to uni, or on my way to my 30-hour ‘part-time’ job. Not only was it my conviction that chips and salad is a nutritious lunch, but I also thought that Lucozade was a healthy alternative to coffee or tea. The cheapest wine and canned beer would be all I needed to get through tough study nights, but of course not without the midnight Kebab from this very questionable and seedy looking place down the road.

Today, I find myself roasting vegetables while I study, and actually getting up early to make myself a proper breakfast with real fruit and everything. Coffee has reduced to normal levels, and I also no longer wolf down meals while running after busses, nor do I immerse myself in 60-hour work/study weeks because, quite frankly, I’m getting too old for this shit.

The other thing I have grown into is a certain sense of resilience and calmness. I remember very clearly receiving the first government letter addressed to me, threatening me with a heavy fine for not paying my TV licence. I sat up all night crying, worrying about how I was going to pay it and why the government is targeting me, out of all people! The next morning I rushed to seek advice and the first question I was asked was “Well, do you even have a TV?”

As a matter of fact, I didn’t.

So I was told that this was just general information for TV owners that, although very firmly and scarily phrased, I could ignore.

Similar things that made me go home and cry was the frustrating experience of having to find a new apartment at short notice, falling asleep on the train and ending up at a train station called ‘Cockfosters’, not being able to pronounce the word ‘encyclopaedia’ for two semesters and losing my student ID card for the third time. Not to mention the overall experience of being at a university in a foreign country on my own for the first time, which in itself was reason to break into tears regularly during my first year.

Luckily, these things don’t phase me anymore. Sure, I still have the occasional day where I must theatrically throw myself on the bed and cry like Cindarella because adult life is so darn unfair sometimes, but it rarely involves the government, public transport or linguistic challenges. Indeed, instead of crying over homesickness, I am much more inclined to cry at the prospect of having to spend a prolonged amount of time in the same house with my mother, who tends to drop the sweet-talk on Day 3.

The moral of the story is that if you have survived all that and reached this glorious age, nothing can stop you from going back to study. And smile snobbishly as you watch those clueless, teary-eyed undergraduates going through it all for the first time.