Obligatory Birthday List

Every year around my birthday, I make a list of some sort. Last year, it was of all the things that I felt I should start doing in my life. This year, I want to make a bucket list. I don’t expect to be kicking the bucket anytime soon, but if I don’t have a list, then I can’t start checking things off! So here are 31 things I’ve come up with so far.

  1. Spend a weekend at a beach house, unplugged
  2. Get kissed at the Eiffel Tower
  3. Swim with dolphins
  4. Travel up and down the entire East Coast
  5. Sit still in silence for 10 full minutes
  6. Try lobster
  7. Go see the circus
  8. Visit Machu Picchu
  9. Buy a house
  10. Witness the aurora borealis
  11. Frolic in flower fields
  12. See a Broadway show
  13. Be able to do a perfect chaturanga
  14. Go camping, with a tent and everything
  15. Sail on the Atlantic Ocean
  16. Have children
  17. Go on a helicopter tour
  18. Work to reduce the stigma of alcoholism and addiction
  19. Visit the top of a Hawaiian volcano
  20. Lay on the grass on a clear night and watch the stars
  21. Visit Roman and Greek ruins
  22. Drive across the United States
  23. Complete my MBA degree
  24. Visit Sydney, Australia
  25. Eat Italian food in Italy
  26. Sit on a nonprofit board
  27. Have a farm
  28. Get arms like Michelle Obama’s
  29. Hold a baby koala
  30. Protest for an issue I am passionate about
  31. Stay up all night, just because

Productivity: The New Nature vs. Nurture Debate

Nature vs. nurture – This is a debate that we all have heard of. The phrase was first used as we know it in the 1800’s, that is how long anyone involved in social and political sciences have discussed the question of where an individual’s innate qualities come from.

Productivity in the workplace – I hope everyone has heard of how the environment at majorly successful firms such as Google and Facebook is so relaxed, comfortable, fun, etc… that employees perform successfully. At Google, there are plenty of sources of healthy, delicious food so that employees don’t suffer from hunger-induced fatigue (so I’ve heard, I wish I could claim personal experience).

I propose this question – Is the productivity (innovation, success, etc…) of a company dependent on the environment that it provides for it’s employees or are individuals who naturally have the qualities that lead to success drawn to similar companies? Does Google just have a tendency to hire superstars or is it really a result of an in-office slide?

I don’t have any answers, I’m not a psychologist, or sociologist, or any-ologist. Like most questions of this nature, it’s probably some sort of combination. I like to believe that I have the same opportunity to be both individually successful and a part of a successful company no matter where I am working. However, I would never turn down free food and lattes, or neglect the opportunity to bring my pets to work.

Big Data and The Nonprofit Organization

I’m a little bit behind on the hot topic of Big Data, but I’ve been meaning to write about it for awhile, and just got… busy. It’s maybe less of a hot topic now than a month or few months ago, but I don’t think it’s being talked about enough when it comes to it’s role in the nonprofit industry. 

We mostly hear about Big Data coming out of the Silicon Valley and Facebook. The information Facebook has on it’s users is astounding, frightening even. The ads on my Facebook sidebar are a fairly accurate depiction of the things I’d actually be interested in – free trades if I join E-Trade, Human Rights Campaign, MBA scholarship opportunities, etc… My posts about starting grad school, social liberalism, and my involvement in the stock markets have made their mark, whether I intended them to or not. Every search we make online is recorded, and companies are using Big Data to profit Big Time. 

That’s all well and good, I’m putting myself out there on the internet, let them use whatever information they want to extract. But how can nonprofits get in on this action? Nonprofits won’t just start marketing hiking boots to people who love the outdoors. It’s not so simple. 

I work for a social services nonprofit. We provide direct services to our target populations and we collect a fair amount of demographics on them. For example, in terms of fighting hunger, we register the income of families and level of hunger insecurity. We can compare this to ourselves overtime to see if there has been any improvement; now with more prolific information available, we can also compare it to wider statistics across San Diego County or across the nation. Sure, that’s a basic example and frankly, those kind of reports have been coming out of nonprofits for a long time since hunger is such a significant force in the industry. 

Especially awareness and advocacy is a realm within the nonprofit industry that can benefit from the use of Big Data. Harvard Business Review discusses how international information gathered about human rights abuses can bring about truth that would otherwise remain under the radar. Also, in terms of gauging literacy not only locally, but nationally and globally as well.

Big Data shows where social services are falling short and where they are succeeding. It shows what funds are being used most effectively so that donors and prospective donors can make intelligent choices so that $1 today creates a bigger impact than $1 yesterday. 

The unfortunate part of this story, however, is that many nonprofits won’t have the opportunity to utilize Big Data. Many will likely admit the benefit, but simply don’t have the resources to spend time, money, and energy on it. Donors and volunteers want their contributions to go to immediate needs, not long-term innovation. The fact that most nonprofits are entirely volunteer-run, with zero personnel, doesn’t help the case either. For this, nonprofits are always going to be a step behind corporations. Facebook will always have the upper leg on Big Data than any nonprofit organization, no matter how big. 

Big Data has to be publicly available to everyone. Companies, organizations, individuals can all decide to use it in order to boost profits, raise awareness, provide services, the options are endless. But if Big Data remains to be an asset only to those that can afford it, it’s benefit to the nonprofit industry may never be realized.


Does A College Degree Still Have Value?

As the 2013 graduation season is among us…

There has been a lot of buzz lately about whether a college degree is worth anything these days. It stems from the post-recession era, where new graduates are not finding employment and are shackled with student loan debt. Experience has proven more valuable than education when it comes to the job hunt. Additionally, now famous genius and millionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg and David Karp were college dropouts. It’s almost the cool thing to do – dropout and get rich anyway.

Back in the 90’s when I was growing up, I was embraced the notion that the only way I would succeed in life was by going to college. And not everyone went to college, but those that did, would be set for life. Or so it seemed to me. Now, it seems that is changing completely. More people than ever are going to college, and a degree doesn’t guarantee you anything. As unemployment numbers were on the rise since 2007, those individuals decided to go back to school with their extra time. And they funded it with student loans – at the time I wrote this post, current student loan debt outstanding in the U.S. was valued at $1,095,378,331,513 and increasing by thousands of dollars every second. The cost of tuition continues to rise and the standards of knowledge obtained decline.

Upon graduation, there is still no guarantee of employment as many college graduates are battling with high school students for minimum wage service jobs. Many Bachelor’s grads then continue their education in a Master’s program to push student loan deferments. In an article by Jack Hough at MSN Money, “Is A College Degree Worthless?”, he argues that the benefits of going to college and earning more do not outweigh the costs of student loan and postponing a full-time career by at least 4 years. There are undoubtably a lot of factors to consider – field of study, university attended, amount of time to graduate, part-time work, etc… that all influence the outcome of such scenarios. But the point is made – in today’s economy, a degree doesn’t really mean anything, other than the likely debt incurred.

Conversely, Chris Farrell at BusinessWeek writes, “A College Degree Is Still Worth It”, as it’s almost a necessity or an expectation for a job. Definitely for a job paying above minimum wage, as low-skill jobs are dwindling. Additionally, if a high school junior or senior comes to ask you on advice about going to college, is someone really going to flat-out tell them not to go? Probably not. Maybe it’s best to suggest less traditional ways of getting through school, such as working more and going to school part-time or attending community college first rather than a 4-year institution in order to cut costs.

All that being said, I’m beginning my Master’s Degree, specifically my MBA, and I sure as hell hope it’s going to be worth it. Nevermind the fact that I’m planning to continue my career in the nonprofit industry, thereby reducing my lifetime income. I found this nifty infographic that depicts the value of a Master’s degree – and the ratios are much better for Business (my current area of study) vs. Liberal Arts (which I received my B.A. in).

My World? My Way?

You ever have those moments when you just know you have it all going on? When everything is going right in the world and you’re succeeding, seeing your dreams come true, and having fun in life. Well, that was me last week. I was going along my merry way, forming my life into the beautiful thing I desired it to be. I was working hard, I was exercising, I was scheduling exams for school, I was seeing positive results. Sure, I probably didn’t get enough sleep as I should have been. But it was what I wanted it to be.

Then it hit me. I got sick. Getting sick is not the same thing for me now as it was when I was a kid. As a kid, getting sick meant I could stay home and watch 7th Heaven all day long. Now, getting sick means that I can’t concentrate as well, I can’t run around as much, I’m sniffling and hacking and exhausted. Not going to work or school means falling behind, it means I can’t keep my commitments and I’ll have to do even more when I’m back.

This is not what I wanted, I had a plan! Each hour of my day for the next two weeks was scheduled – “take it easy” and “stay home from work” were not on the schedule. I went out and bought basically every cold/flu product from the drugstore, hoping to find that miracle remedy that would cure me in 20 minutes. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t find it.)

I reacted the way I always do when things don’t go my way, I was pissed. I always get pissed whenever I get sick because its not what I had planned. I move too slow when I’m sick. There is so much I want to do, but there’s only so much that I can do. Reluctantly, I took a day off work (my supervisor asked me to promise that I would try to rest and get better, since she knows I have no boundaries) and I called to request postponements for two of my master’s-level exams.

Suddenly, a relief fell over me. It was like I could breathe again and I thought to myself, “What’s the rush anyway?” I’m beginning my MBA and it’s a 2-year program if you attend full-time, longer if you attend part-time. Of course, being the overachiever that I am, I planned to complete the program in 1 1/2 years while still working full-time. Why? I don’t know, because everything I do Has. To. Be. Right. Now.

Getting sick was a blessing in disguise. It woke me back up to the fact that I can slow down, I can take my time, and enjoy the process. I’m 23 years-old. I didn’t need my MBA 2 years ago. I don’t need it in one year. I have a job I love, where I’m given the opportunity to grow, be challenged, and pursue more educational goals. My MBA is going to come to me either way. When I’m 24 or 26, what’s the difference? Taking care of myself is important and I need to listen to my body when it tells me to stop, slow down.

Also, letting go of the notion that my life has to be the way I imagined it and planned it, that’s pretty liberating too.

Here’s a heads up: No one at work really wants you to be there if you’re sick either. Don’t take it personally. Just go home.

Somewhere In The Middle

Disclaimer: This post will likely seem to contradict itself, but it’s going to be fairly accurate. It will be reminiscent of B.Spears‘ “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman,” which is slightly shameful given the (presumed) maturity and dignity of this blog.

Being in your 20s, being in your early 20s specifically, is a difficult place to be, as I’ve mentioned before. There are so many times when I feel “all-grown-up” and sometimes when I can’t believe this is actually happening, and I feel like a child again. And I’d like to relay that once again, in list form.

Ways I Know I’m An Adult

  1. I make weekly meal plans. This prevents me from scrambling on a Tuesday night after work, not knowing what to eat, and settling for the Taco Bell drive through. It’s only taken me 4 years without a dorm/dining hall to figure out how to plan my own meals.
  2. I’ve purchased my own furniture. These are items that are going to continue along with me for awhile in life.
  3. I buy toilet paper in bulk. It saves money and I’m always going to need some on hand. No more running down to the corner mart to pay for an individual roll when I realize I gotta go and we’ve run out.
  4. Getting up at 5:30am for work every day is not a problem. Especially when I’m asleep by 11:00pm every night. What’s that?! A real sleep schedule?! Insanity.
  5. I get my car washed, the oil changed, and the tires rotated. Because I know I’ll probably be driving my future kiddos to baseball practice in that SUV.
  6. I have a 401(k). And I consciously put money into in from my paycheck, enough to get my employer’s matching contribution.
  7. I’m comfortable going to public places alone. Shopping alone, eating alone, movie alone. No one cares that I’m alone besides myself. And usually I’m there alone because I want to be.
  8. I tell my parents that I’m planning on going to Europe and they don’t freak out.
  9. Friends my age are getting married and having babies. My reaction is happiness, joy, and excitement!

Ways I Know I’m Still A Child

  1. Mac&Cheese still counts as an entire meal for me.
  2. I still don’t eat all my veggies at dinner, or I don’t even serve veggies at dinner.
  3. When I’m sick, I call my mom and beg her to drive 2 hours to come take care of me.
  4. I fall into the financial pitfall of online shopping.
  5. I am an excellent procrastinator and see no problem in this. I always hear my mom’s voice, “If you had been working the whole time you were complaining, you would have been done by now.” I still never listen.
  6. I ask my parents for money for things I can already afford. Yes, I can pay my rent and buy food, but I need an extra $20 for Starbucks.
  7. I reward myself for each small accomplishment so I don’t feel guilty watching mindless TV. Example, “I did 5 whole push-ups this morning, I deserve to watch a two-hour movie I’ve already seen before I do 5 more push-ups.”
  8. I watch mindless TV. I see nothing wrong in watching MTV’s Teen Mom, no matter what you tell me it does to my brain. Also, all the crime shows manifest in my real life. “Why is that person leaving work early on the same day the power went out?!”
  9. Friends my age are getting married and having babies. My reaction is shock, disbelief, and not being ready for growing up.

My Grand Entrance into the World of Stocks

Rewind six years – I was a high school senior, sitting in my Economics class going through the newspaper to see stocks’ ticker symbols, prices, percentage changes, whatever else was included in newspapers back them. To be honest, I haven’t looked up stocks in an actual paper newspaper since 2007. To take it even further, I hadn’t looked up investments at all until about 6 months ago. It was around then that I decided I wanted to dabble in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds to see what it was all about. I had heard plenty about it, I felt like I knew people watching Jim Cramer in every different city I lived in. It wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to bother with matters of money.

Let’s take last night for example, I  baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies and two loaves of banana bread while browsing Pinterest and watching Sunday night’s episode of Revenge. Really now, does that sound like someone who puts her own money and makes independent choices about the stock market? No, it sounds more like June Cleaver to me. But it’s me, somehow I’m both.

I’m not sure if it was my job, as I became increasing responsible for the Financial Literacy program at my organization, or my decision to get my MBA, since nonprofits need a sold business foundation to be successful. I’m currently enrolled in managerial finance and I decided it was time I get some real world experience and throw some of my savings into the market and see what happens. I dove in head first about 3 weeks ago, and have bought up some stocks and mutual funds.

Granted, I really do not know all that much, I know little beyond divined yields and price/book ratios. I know that when a stock gets popular, people buy it, which drives the price up, until the firm starts to lose its apparent value and people jump ship, causing it to fall. You get in when it’s low, wait ’til it’s high, then sell off your shares to make a profit. Or just hold and collect dividends. Or something like that. See, that’s just about the extent of my knowledge.

My boyfriend suggested I invest in something I personally know, like Williams-Sonoma, but I didn’t. Instead, I invested (among others) in Newcastle Investment Corporation (NYSE:NCT), which is something called a REIT, or real estate investment trust. Unbeknownst to me prior to my purchase, NCT will be launching a spin off into the public market, New Residential Investment Corporation (NYSE:NRZ), set it enter the market mid-May. This means I’ll end up getting 1 share of NRZ for every share of NCT I currently own. To me, this is just more shares, each of which will have their own dividend and independent trading price. Its all very exciting and I’m looking forward to the next month, to see how my stocks do and to see what happens with this new spin-off, since it’s a concept pretty foreign to me.

I still have a lot of work to do, but it’s exciting. I don’t think being young, or a woman, or a nonprofit professional, or any of those things keep you from learning about the economy, the stock market, and how it relates to your personal finances. I’ll promise you this, if you have any sort of retirement account, IRA or 401(k), then you’re money is in the market, so you might as well at least try to see whats happening to it!

Maybe I’ll make another post soon creating an analogy between a batch of cookies and shares of stock…

June and Ward CleaverChart of the United States stock to use ratio ...List of U.S. state foods