For months, I felt like I was constantly writing, working on my online endeavors. I wanted to write, find others in the community to connect with, and sink my teeth into some work.

For a long time, I felt like I was doing things without much feedback or response — I was on my own little island of solitude. It was a bit disheartening, but I kept going. I enjoy blogging with or without the opportunities it presents.

Then in a sudden twist of fate, it seemed like people were knocking on my door with opportunities. Not only my door, but my window, too. Seemingly all at the same time. One thing led to another, and I found myself scared and excited to enter new territory.

As I adjust to full-time work while juggling freelance work, I can now reflect on the many ways I was unprepared for all of this. Recently, I’ve felt like I was scrambling to get things done, update materials, etc.

I realize that as I was plugging away, just hoping for an opportunity, I pushed a lot aside because I deemed it unnecessary at the time. I thought, “I’ll update to a professional design when it’s time. Bio? No one cares about reading mine! Resume? Haha, you know I’m a blogger, right?”

All of these things sort of bit me in the ass. I now realize doing these things when it’s “the right time” is too freaking late!

When you are working towards something, and you can’t quite see what it is, but you know where you want to go, be ready for it. Just because you can’t see it coming, doesn’t mean it’s not right around the corner. You don’t want to miss an opportunity because you weren’t ready, or scramble to make something happen that ultimately comes off as being half-assed.

Embrace your greatness, and cultivate your dreams. Let your imagination run wild with possibilities, and know that sometimes reality can be sweeter than dreams, and better than anything you could have imagined.

All this to say, there will be some changes around here to make it look spiffier. I will continue to try to be the best version of myself, while still being brutally honest about the struggles of debt repayment and juggling multiple jobs.

It’s an interesting time for all this to happen – it’s been 3 years since I graduated from NYU with my master’s in Performance Studies. I know, it’s kind of a joke. You can laugh (while I’m dying on the inside).

The road from graduation to present has been paved with tumultuous experiences. I went from working in my field in NYC, but missing my love, to moving across the country, unable to find a job and saddled with student loan debt to be with him. As a workaholic, and as someone who paid for the privilege of going to one of the best schools, I felt worthless not having a job. It took me 1.5 years to find a full-time job in Portland, which forced me to get food stamps. It’s dawned on me that this city is really not for traditional employment, something that I resented when I didn’t have a clue about how to work for myself.

With all the negativity that surrounded the few years after graduation, things started to shift in the past year. I got a full-time job that challenges me and has given me the ability to learn amazing new skills. I officially launched Dear Debt and the Dear Debt letter project. I have friends online and in real life that support me, and an amazing partner who helps me keep it together.

Anniversaries are always nostalgic for me, so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how different my life was 3 years ago. I was talking to my partner when a pang of doubt hit about my current situation.

What if I was supposed to work in the arts? My life used to be so much easier before grad school. Am I a fake? A phony? Do I know what I’m doing? I can’t believe I’m a personal finance writer!

He’s a very wise man and told me, “there is no ‘supposed to’. You’re not supposed to be anything, nor should you do anything. Do what you love, and go after the opportunities in front of you.”

He’s absolutely right. I am who I am, and I guess I am dealing with my own fractured feelings of who I am as a professional. Teaching Artist/Coordinator/Personal Finance Writer/Brand Ambassador/Events Assistant?

Instead of feeling divided about my various interests, passions, and money-making endeavors, I should be proud that I have such diverse interests that allow me to do so many things. I shouldn’t regret past decisions, because what does regret do? A whole lot of nothing. You can’t change what happened in the past. The bitter residue of regret might linger with you for a while, but all you can do is accept it, learn from it, and move on. Make it part of your story.

Because even though sometimes I feel like I do regret going to grad school, I know I wouldn’t have my blog if I never left L.A., and never went to grad school. I would have never experienced NYC or moved to Portland.

It’s all part of the adventure. So accept it, and be ready for the next chapter.

This post is in: blog, career, goals, life

Melanie’s Note: I have a special treat for you today. My mom, who is pretty much my #1 fan and so supportive, is on the blog today sharing her expertise in employee benefits. Whenever I have questions, or start a new job, I ask her for advice. Enjoy and feel free to ask any questions.

Dear Debt Readers:

I am continually inspired by your comments, guest posts and “Dear Debt” letters. I applaud your courage in opening your financial underwear drawer and sharing your debt and financial stories!

For the past 30 or so years, I’ve been in the Human Resources field both administering and managing employee benefit plans and I wanted to share my top 10 insights with the “Dear Debt” readers in hopes that I will help you avoid some financial landmines in selecting and using your employee benefits.

1. Starting or Changing Jobs?

You wouldn’t take a new job without finding out how much you’re going to be paid so you should apply that same logic to finding out about the company’s benefit program before you accept that new job. Key things to find out include:

Afraid to ask these questions? Check out the company website as many will list some basic benefit information in their “Careers” or “Working for Us” sections.

2. Enroll timely and choose wisely

Most companies give you a window in which to make your choices and if you miss this opportunity, you can (depending on the company) be assigned coverage or be without coverage. Take the time to enroll within the prescribed time or you may have to wait for a year to make changes

 3. Don’t misrepresent your relationship status

Does your company permit you to enroll your domestic partner in the company medical plan? If so – that’s great. If they don’t – be very careful about misrepresenting your relationship status just to get insurance for your honey. It’s very common now for companies to audit their plans to identify these ineligible dependents. If you’re found to have a non-eligible dependent you could be charged for their medical expenses paid by the plan and could quite possible lose your job as well. Ask yourself if it’s worth this risk?

 4. Find out how to use your plan – before you have to use it!

When you’re sick, your first priority should be to get well. Worrying about the cost of care doesn’t help your recovery.

I was pregnant with Melanie when I ended up in the hospital for the first time. And it wasn’t for her delivery. I had the misfortune of rupturing my appendix when I was six months pregnant and ended up in the hospital for two weeks. This was before I was in the employee benefits field. While my first priority was to get better and ensure Melanie was okay as well, I wondered how we’d handle our portion of a lengthy hospital stay. This worry was further exacerbated when Melanie was born two months early and was in the NICU for almost two months.

We were very fortunate on so many levels.

5. Don’t forget the value of other plans such as life and disability insurance

You’ll want to get some level of coverage in both of these categories to provide for your loved ones when you pass on or to provide you with income if you can’t work.

I’m fortunate to live in the State of California where we have State Disability Insurance which is deducted from my pay like any other taxes. For any medical leave that I’ve been on over the years, I’ve been fortunate to have full pay by using a combination of California State Disability and sick leave.

As for life insurance – you’ll want to have coverage that isn’t tied to your work so if you change jobs and they don’t offer as much coverage you won’t have a decrease.

6.  Don’t forget to update your Benefits as your life changes

Getting married? Having a baby? Got divorced? Make sure you review and update your benefits accordingly as your life changes. Most companies allow you a limited window of about 30 days to make changes after a life event occurs.  Don’t miss this window! One of the most heart-breaking part of my job is to tell a new parent that they have to wait to enroll their baby into the plan because they missed this window.

7.  Got divorced? Make sure you remove your ex from all of your plans!

Imagine how you’d feel if your loved one passed away and you discovered that s/he didn’t update his beneficiary designation to include you? Worse yet – what if the ex was still listed? Imagine how I have felt having to deliver this news!

8. Don’t forget to save for retirement

Here are my tips to make it easier:

 9. Educational Reimbursement

Many companies will reimburse your college coursework after you’ve worked for them for a period of time. Typically there are annual limits and may exclude fees and the cost of books. In my old job, I was able to obtain two professional certifications using this benefit.

10. Take advantage of any unique benefits your employer offers.

My current employer offers up to $400 for wellness activities if you complete a simple Health Risk Assessment. Other unique benefits that might be offered include discounts to movies; amusement parks or plans such as pet insurance.

What is the most valued benefit you have at your job? What is the most unique offering?


This post is in: career

It was 2007, right before the recession hit. I was 22 when I got hired to work at a nonprofit as a program coordinator. It was my first big break after college. I had been looking for full-time work, and juggling three jobs for months prior so I was ecstatic to get a job in a field related to my degree, working with passionate and enthusiastic people.

Being my first real career job, I had a huge learning curve. I learned how to manage budgets, write grants, coordinate after-school programs, and most importantly how to supervise employees. I had some management experience while in college, but now at 22 I was managing actual adults, not just students. The majority of my employees were older than me, something that I was well aware of when I started the position. At 22, I was pretty mature and had some decent work experience under my belt. I was at the right place, at the right time, and most importantly in the fresh-out-of-school pay bracket.

As the program coordinator, I managed 7 teachers. In the three years I worked there, I got promoted to manager, then director. As we grew the program, I managed up to 20 staff and volunteers. It was a magnificent challenge, and the proudest part of my work history.

I consider myself a people person, and someone who genuinely likes to engage with others. Building a relationship of mutual respect and trust was really important to me — to run an effective program, I needed people to feel comfortable around me to express their concerns. I set the tone for open communication, with an angle of respect and admiration for their craft. To me, a happy, well-organized staff is the best way to serve your mission.

There was one issue though — one of the teachers was an older boomer who had a clear disdain for me. I was 22, and he was 60. I was technically his boss. I say technically because it was more complicated than that. Although I was hired to manage the program and supervise teachers, the boomer in question had also donated a large sum of money that was essentially paying my salary. Talk about work place politics!

Suffice it to say he had a hard time coming to terms with me as his supervisor.

As a supervisor, I have a pretty relaxed, easy-going attitude. As long as people are doing their jobs, doing it well, and serving the mission, I am fairly hands-off.  There is a time and place for being hands on, and I try to create an environment and work relationship on the front end, to avoid issues later on.

I made my respect very clear to the boomer from day one. He had the wealth of experience (and money) to take the program to the next level, and his commitment was unparalleled. However, we didn’t see eye to eye on several issues and it created a difficult working environment. His vision for the program wasn’t what was best for the organization, which caused friction among us.

I realized there was a huge generation gap between us, and we weren’t speaking the same language. We just couldn’t get on the same page. I think he thought I was a young, dumb, twenty-two year old (I do believe ageism works both ways), and he probably thought I didn’t respect him and his tenure.

As a millennial supervising a boomer, here is what helped me/things I learned:

Creating a Culture of Respect

As a supervisor, the culture and environment starts with you. Creating a culture of respect in the workplace helps facilitate open communication. Once you make it clear you respect the other person, should there be differences, you can always go back to the respect. You are entitled to contrasting opinions, but the respect must be maintained.

Understanding Different Communication Styles

Millennials can often talk in a more casual manner than boomers. Be clear, and careful that your casual style isn’t being misconstrued as unprofessional. In addition, it’s important to understand how others would prefer to be communicated with. In this case, it was not via email or text, it was by phone or in person.

Lots of Changes May Seem Threatening

I was hired for my position during a time of transition for the program. Things were shifting and I got hired on quickly. A lot of changed occurred administratively, and I had a lot of work to build things up. Sometimes rapid change can seem like a threat to your boomer counterparts. I felt like the employee in my case thought I was out to rule the roost and overthrow his vision and all of his hard work. Through continued communication, and discussing our shared vision for the program we were able to overcome some of these fears.

You Will Have to Prove Yourself and Deflect Assumptions

For some silly reason, the boomer thought that I was entitled, privileged, and made a lot of money. While it may have seemed like I just fell into a managerial position, I worked hard all throughout college, and struggled for months post-college, to find my career calling. He also assumed I made a ton of money. I started out making $30k as a coordinator, in Los Angeles. I was essentially getting paid an entry-level salary, for a more advanced job. He didn’t know my struggles and didn’t care to. To overcome assumptions about you and your whole generation, you have to work hard, and be innovative. Keep them on their toes. Come up with new ideas. Challenge their assumptions.

Learn from Their Wisdom

If you are working with boomers, they have been around a while. They have stories to tell, and histories to uncover. Find them and learn from their wisdom. While you learn from their experience, test out new ideas.

Make It About the Mission

I say mission because I have a nonprofit background, but you can replace this with ethos, or the heart of the work. When personalities or egos get in the way, remember why you are there. What do you want to accomplish? Is it for the kids? To make a better world? To increase sales? Whatever the reason, find your common ground and focus on that.

Are you a Millennial who has supervised or worked alongside a Boomer? Or vice verse? What has been your experience?

This post is in: career, Millennial