Monday, September 25, 2006


A whole bunch of stuff that wouldn't make it as an entry on their own:

Looks like my work project is going to go through, at least in part. Don't need to quit after all. I do, fortunately or not, need to double down and refocus to guide my unit through the changes that have now become necessary. That, and another employee quit last week. No one ever said it would be easy.

I figure that after I clean up this mess at work, I'll see if my resume will be good enough to get me into an accelerated development program. New challenges for me, no pay cut, and my department retains my rights. Everybody wins.

Workouts are going well, but I've been a little fatigued lately. More sleep is needed.

I was promised a considerable raise this year, but our pay systems haven't been updated yet. So I'm gonna get some insane retro pay backdated to April 1. I hope they get this done soon, the extra money is going straight to mortgage principal.

It's too bad that I often have to make decisions between what's right and what's fair. It's surprising that many people haven't learned that life isn't fair yet.

I read the other day that there are no bad employees, only bad leaders. I would challenge the writer to spend a week in my shoes.

I need to buy a minivan. But I don't feel comfortable in them and they're ugly as hell, and I refuse to drop top dollar on those new SUV/car/minivan hybrids. Any suggestions?

I'm looking forward to having my friends over for a Hallowe'en party at the end of October. But I'm having trouble finding the time and energy to do any prep work. I feel as though I owe them something special for travelling all this way.

I only seem to have enough time to do one of two things: play the guitar or work out. Since I'm committed to getting and staying in shape, I had to put the guitar down. That makes me sad.

I have training on Wednesday on "Leading Through Change". I know many other people who think this training is beneath them who need it far more than I do.

I've been thinking a lot about family lately. You'll notice that I've been open about a lot of things on this blog, but my family isn't one of them. I'm wondering whether I shouldn't change that. The problem is that it puts me in a place to which I don't want to go and it pulls me into the pattern of victimization that I seek to avoid and that I give other people a hard time for falling into. But it's also something I'll have to confront someday. There are still outstanding issues with a lot of family members, but they've been sort of patched over. I don't know whether it's worth lifting the patch and fixing the foundation, and I don't know whether the foundation can even be fixed. Brandon deserves to grow up in a tight family, but that just isn't how it'll be, probably, and I have to find out whether or not I'm ok with that.

So maybe some therapeutic writing is in order. Or not. We'll see.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A new beginning?

"I used to be so full of my confidence,
I used to know just what I wanted and just where to go..."

Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Hey"

So, a bunch of things are happening at work. Let's just say that I'm really starting to find out that this isn't where I want to be, for a variety of reasons. But at the same time, if I wanted to leave my job, I'd most likely have to take a pay cut. It is extremely possible that we won't find a spot in day care for the little guy, and my wife may need to take extra unpaid leave, so the possibility of taking a job with less pay, even if it's in a better environment, doesn't strike me at the greatest option at this point. However, my colleagues are dropping like flies, and I don't want to be next, and people are starting to hand in their resignations en masse. On the bright side, I could probably move up pretty quickly because there'd be no one left, but then again, what's the point of being the King if all you end up ruling is a scorched pile of shit?

So, long story short, I have until Wednesday end of day to hand in my resume for a job posting that seems like it could be interesting. It's a step down in the hierarchy, but it would be a good learning experience and set me up for a possibility of taking one step back to move two steps ahead. Besides, even if I end up being offered a job, I don't need to accept it.

I'll likely end up applying, while giving myself the leeway to refuse the job if things improve at the office. The next few weeks will give me a lot of the information I need in order to decide whether I will leave or not.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The first step... (post-Uni)

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."


Summer 1999.

As I indicated a while back, I was having trouble finding work in the city. While I did well on all the aptitude tests and that sort of thing, my professional credentials didn't do me any good outside of the industry I wanted to break into (which is notorious for being guarded about letting in new people), and I just couldn't manage to convince people to take a chance on me. Finally, a leasing agency accepted to take me on a 6-month term to handle some of their admin work and give them some to speak with their French dealers and customers. And so began my thousand-mile journey. And that single step landed squarely in a pile of dog shit.

The leasing company I worked for had started out as a small, little engine that could type of company. But it had been bought out by a bigger company, which in turn had been bought out by another company. So now, it was sort of lost within the corporate shuffle and treated like the red-headed step child it was (our division did small consumer leases, while other divisions handled huge corporate transactions - I don't even know why we were worth buying).

As my first "office" job, I couldn't wait to put all my smarts and work ethic to good use. But then, I started noticing that people weren't exactly putting everything they had into their jobs. Or even a bare minimum. Here's a quick sample of the type of people I was dealing with:

1) Our manager had been brought over from another division. She was one of those people that couldn't ever find a way to deal with something she hadn't seen before. And yet, in her mind, she was the only person allowed to make a decision. I learned quickly to go behind her back as much as possible. I swear to God, she was one of those managers who had a Big Book of Management, and she was screwed if whatever was going on wasn't in that book. I actually hid the book on her once. That turned into quite a day.

2) Our portfolio officers were a lovely combination of the following:

A divorced single mom who loathed all men and spent her day talking on the phone to Lord knows who about it, then cried about not getting any opportunities in life.

Her best friend, who was too busy being her social worker to do any real work.

A lady who had immigrated from somewhere in Indonesia, and hardly spoke English, even though she had been in the country for over 10 years. Then, during those 10 years, she forgot her native language, so she was running on about 1/3 to 1/2 of a language.

The sales and IT guys had built a fake network stocked with some of the most gonzo porn I've ever heard of. And I'm fairly open-minded about these things.

To top it all of, there was this old guy who was a former member in the South African army, and when he went to talk to you, he got all like 1/2 an inch from your face and stared you down into submission. He also carried a nasty looking knife, and looked like he'd cut you with it. His assistants were two hot Asian sisters, and no one knew what the three of them did.

There were a few solid workers: the admin supervisor, the business analyst, the accountant and his assistant, and we banded together to stay sane.

So I worked there, then got home, opened my velcro-fortified fridge, and slept in my circus tent.
How did I not kill myself again?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The First Day of the Rest of My Life (Uni)

Finally, the time had come. Time to say goodbye to everything and everyone I knew to strike out on my own. And I couldn't wait. After 3 summers of busting my balls at the grocery store, I had amassed enough cash to pay for my first year of university tuition and residence without needing to work.

I saw university as a way of starting over. A sorely needed one. After all, the only thing I was known for in high school was being the smart, weird kid. I guess it was better than being the loser, but not by much. I just didn't have a lot in common with the farmers and hockey players that frequented my high school. I didn't fit into their regular mould of people, it was like I wasn't allowed to be an athlete, or popular with the girls, because I was considered "too smart". Never mind that I could have whipped any of the so-called "jocks" on the soccer pitch, the volleyball court, or on the track for that matter, and that I secretly suspect that a lot of the girls liked my quirky sense of humour. It was too late for me at that school, and university was the perfect way for me to really display all the aspects of my personality.

I didn't even try to hide from my parents that I couldn't wait to get out of their house, or that I wouldn't miss them while I was gone. I was on cloud nine for the whole week before leaving. I wasn't even nervous, I was calm and relaxed, but focused. The university was 5 hours away from my hometown, close enough that it was easy to go back and work at the store during holidays and exams, but not close enough for my parents to visit on weekends. Perfect.

So my dad and I load up the van and head off to school. We chatted a bit in the car, but it was hard to really find anything to say. I had purposely not done any research on the residence I would be staying at, because I wanted the sensation of being a fish out of water. And wow, was I ever.

My dad and I pulled up to the residence and registered with the director, who told me my room number and floor, and instructions on how to get there. So up we went. And I walked straight into a scene from Animal House. Since my dad was still there, I tried not to smile too broadly.

I hadn't brought very much stuff, figuring that I would buy what I needed when I got there. So two suitcases, a stereo, my PC and two boxes of odds and ends were about all I brought.

My RA (residence advisor, or "Don") was in the room across the hall getting smashed with the rest of the guys from the floor. I was apparently the first frosh (freshman) arrival on his floor. I could see them sizing me up, so I decided that the new me was going to take the initiative with these people.

"Hi guys, just give me one minute to bring up the rest of my stuff, and I'll be right in."

"Uh, ok, sure, you don't need any help?"

"No, it's ok, there's just a few more armloads. Me and my dad got it."

"Really, that's all you brought?"

"Uhhhh, yeah."

So, after the last load of stuff, my dad looks around...

"So, I guess this is going to be where you're going to live for a while."

"Yeah, I guess so."

"Ok, give us a call when you have your phone set up, ok?"

"Yeah, sure."

And after probably the most awkward hug in human history, my dad leaves, and I stroll into the RA's room.

"Hey guys, here I am!"

"Hey, I just figured out who you are, you're my worker bee frosh!"


"We tried to call you all summer, and you were always working. Didn't you get our messages?"

"No, my parents sort of suck at giving them to me."

"So, I guess you're gonna go get groceries, or stay in a hotel with your dad or something?"

"Nope, I'm here with you guys. I just got away from my parents, why would I want to go hang out with them?"

"Well, some of the uncool kids do that, but I can tell you're not one of them."

"No sir, I'm not."

"So, next you drink beer?"

I had never drank while in school, for no better reason than I didn't have the time. The schedule I kept required me to stay in tip-top shape, and there was no room for hangovers.



"But I never said I wouldn't start..."


The whole day was a blur, helping other people bring their boxes in and doing beer bongs and whiskey shots. I was being accepted by the cool kids, it was great. We went out and played football, and it was great just competing with people and having fun. None of these guys knew me, but they'd accepted me with open arms, which was something I'll never forget. Even when the cooler frosh came onto the floor with his own car and beer for everyone, I still felt really good about my place in the residence. It felt like I was able to sprout wings and fly.

Then, I started noticing other frosh getting hazed. And I was kind of concerned. But my RA pulled me aside...

"Ok dude, here's the deal. This is why we asked all of you to bring old clothes. See, a lot of floors in this rez believe in ritual hazing. We know it sucks, but we all went through it. It's a way of bonding before school starts. But we do it differently on our floor. Here's how it works. Basically, you do everything we ask you to do. If you're not a dick about it, you eat and drink for free all week. No other floors offer that kind of deal."

"That sounds fine with me, I know my role."

"Wow, cool, time to go get changed. And if things get too hairy for you, just kind of pull me aside and let me know."

"Don't worry, they won't. I'm no pussy."

So from then on, we got treated like human salads, human hamburgers, wrapped in saran wrap and rolled down hills, all while being drunk out of our minds. It was the best week of my life. I made so many new friends, and just knew that it would be the place for me. It would surely be a matter of time before I started meeting co-eds and losing my v-card, I just knew it!

Then I get the phone call from my father..."Your mother just left me...what am I supposed to do now?"

People sometimes wonder why I don't particularly give a shit that my mom is dead. I'd say that that phone call had a lot to do with it.

Oh woe, woe is me!

"Times change, and people change with them.
Some people love to play the victim..."

Alexisonfire, "Keep it on Wax"

I'm honestly getting sick of this. Again, I've been called into work on a weekend because people are unwilling or unable to sort out their own messes.

Now, I realize that I'm the manager and that it's my job. I know that I'm getting everything I asked for in taking this job. But goddamn, can't people figure anything out for themselves? Every day, I have employees arrive at my desk with a pile full of tasks, utterly unable to figure out what is the most important, and what has to be done first. After about oh, 5 minutes of half-hearted analysis, their tasks are organized and they're sent on their way. It's the same thing, day in, day out. People don't learn. Or they learn, then they're good for a few weeks, then they forget.

I don't want to be mean to these people, the sorry thing is that I think they're trying their best. They just never learned what work is, what responsibility is, what figuring things out is. All I know is that the day will come when I'm gonna let these people have it with both barrels if some of my teachings don't start sticking. You can only kill people with kindness so long, then you just want to kill them.


Training update: Since acquiring my home gym two weeks ago, I've lost 4 lbs and 2% body fat. But the biggest change is the energy levels. And I need every ounce of this new energy I can find. I'm three times as productive at work as I was before I started training (I now estimate I am able to do the work of 15 regular people), and I still have plenty left in the tank to help out with chores when I get home and play with the boy. I now sleep like a log, something I've rarely ever done in my life, but I view that as a good thing, since I wake up in the morning so well rested.

Next week is my last week at work before my week long manager's symposium, so I have to get some loose ends tied up before then. Could be some long hours in my near future, as I now know the kind of effort it takes to keep things afloat.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Welcome to the Brave New World...Where Nothing Is Your Fault

Hmmmm. If you've been following the mainstream media lately, you'll see that the North American (and specifically, the American) economy has hit a bit of a rough patch, specifically in the housing market.

Turns out that taking on more debt than you can afford is unsustainable. How about that? That fact, compounded with the stalling of the housing market, is bringing in gale-force winds to fuck with the fed's economic high-wire act.

So now, the search for the scapegoat is on. It's the Fed's fault, they lowered interest rates too far. It's the bank's fault, they made it too easy for my impulsive ass to get vast sums of money. Now they're suckering us all by raising rates and going to get rich off of us.

If you are in this situation, the person to blame is staring back at you through your mirror. No one forced you to take on more debt than you can afford. I've had people tell me "but I wouldn't have been able to afford a house otherwise". Then guess what? YOU COULDN'T AFFORD A HOUSE, WHY WOULD YOU BUY ONE? Then compound it by taking on a neg-am mortgage?

You may think that I'm being smug about this, but it's the furthest from the truth. I'm in the same situation - I was forced to buy a house because of my work transfer and my wife's pregnancy. However, I went for a fixed rate and am paying off my debt aggressively. That said, the housing market in my area seems to have leveled off, and I am quite likely "upside-down", meaning I owe more on my house than what it's worth. The difference is that for the remaining 4.5 years of my mortgage, I should be able to get myself into better shape.

It would be easy for me and other Canadians (aside from the Westerners) to look at our mildly cooling housing market and thank our stars that we're not going through what's happening in other places. But really, if the US is heading towards a major recession, the likes of which we may not have seen in 80 years, how long will it be before all of Canada starts to suffer? I'm not naive enough to think the worst is over. On the contrary, I believe it's just beginning. It's like we're sitting in the back car of the roller-coaster, watching the people in front head down the hill. It's only a matter of time, folks. The economy, like the links between the roller-coaster cars, binds us all.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Repeat After Me: No Debt is Good Debt

Here in Canada, there's this show called "'Til Debt Do Us Part". It's a show about young couples who want it all and want it now, and have absolutely no clue how much money they make or how much they spend.

On one hand, I can't believe there are that many people in the world like this. But then I think, our generation has been raised to keep up with the Joneses, so I think that many people just believe it's normal to have huge credit card debts and prohibitive mortgage payments.

People: get a grip. Lines of credit, credit cards, home equity, these are not INCOME. You are spending money you haven't yet earned. That means that the money you earn pays for things you already possess, not things you want. When interest rates rise again, that's going to be a lot of interest on old things that need to be replaced, but you don't have any money to replace them because they're still being paid for.

Over the next few years, there will be an unbelievable North American recession. It will start in the States (specifically, on the coasts), then spread through the mainland, and up to Canada. Then it will impact the world. Who will be blamed? The Fed? Probably. The banks and lenders? Most likely. The consumers who spent and spent with no clue as to how they would actually AFFORD what they were buying? Of course not. You see, they were just the innocent pawns of the banks and big business. That's the story that will be told, and it will be complete bullshit. Had more people managed their money wisely, we would have a steadily climbing economy and probably have started paving the way to prolonged prosperity. Instead, the economy boomed, and now we're all suffocating under our own debt.

So, what should everyone do?

1) For God's sake, pay off your credit cards. This should be a no-brainer. Then, don't put anything on them you can't pay off within a month. If you're unable to do this, cut 'em in half. If you NEED to put things on your credit card in order to get by, you're in deep shit. But, you can at least see if you can get a line of credit at a lower interest rate and use that instead.

2) Lock in your mortgages as soon as possible. Don't wait. Yes, the payment will be higher. But you'll actually be paying off principal, which will hopefully build faster than your home loses value, and you won't have any nasty rate jump surprises. Can't afford to do this? Have some relatives move in and charge rent. Liquidate some investments if you have any. Americans can use their tax returns from mortgage interest to drop on the principal.

3) Re-assess all big ticket items. Do you own your SUV and your plasma tv, or are you paying a ton of interest every month? Do you lease a car? Ask yourself, do I really need all this stuff? That second car? The jacuzzi? The VISA-financed trips to Europe? If the answer is no, start liquidating. Trade in your car for a slightly older model, or a same-year model that consumes less gas. Sell the crap you don't need and can't afford. I've never owned a car that was less than 5 years old, and I've never had any major problems with them, only regular maintenance and a few repairs. Sure, they're not the nicest cars in the neighbourhood, but why do they need to be?

4) Learn how to cook. Going out and ordering take-out is a huge guilty pleasure for most (me included). But it's expensive. You can cook the food yourself for a fraction of the price. Most cooking isn't rocket science, it just takes practice. Buy a good, solid cookbook and pick out 3-5 things that look interesting, then try them out. There are good recipe sites all over the Internet. Kitchens these days are becoming the nicest room in the home, spend some time there. Use those stainless steel appliances. When you do go out (hey, you have to treat yourself sometime), limit yourself to one drink, or better yet, just have water.

5) Adopt a cash only policy. Charging things on a visa or using a debit card does not make you aware of the money you are spending. Take out a chunk of cash to last you a few weeks, and use that. If you're not comfortable carrying a semi-large amount of cash on you, hide some in your home and only take what you need for a given day. When you start dropping a wad of bills instead of plastic on a shopping spree, you quickly realize just how much dough you're going through.

It's not too late. Rates are still low compared to historical standards and the economy's momentum is still pushing it forward. Get yourself into the best position you can.