Category Archives: Work

Volunteer Burnout

426011335_62be4f4fc5_zVolunteering is a wonderful thing. There are so many organizations that do amazing work and rely on people to give their time for free in hopes of helping others and making a difference. Do it. Now.

Unfortunately, I’m experiencing major burnout from just this. Let me explain. I purchased my Los Angeles area condo almost nine years ago and I’ve been on the HOA board since day one.

As you may or may not know, condominiums typically have a Home Owners Association (HOA) made up of volunteers. They make sure the community and/or building runs smoothly when it comes to common area maintenance, residents following the rules, handling the occasional emergency, and maintaining a balanced budget. All great stuff that’s super important.

When I moved in, I was eager to help out; totally stoked that I actually bought property in LA! I was quickly recruited to join the board and happy to do so. The following year, I took the position of Secretary, seeing as I had wicked good note-taking skills from many years as a coordinator. Over the next four years, the core five board members changed little.

The time came when our president had had enough (looking back, I suspect he experienced the same burnout), no one else wanted the job, so I stepped in. Jump to today, nearly three years later, and I’ll say that I’ve been a pretty damn good president. I’m organized, pay attention to details, and don’t let things slide through the cracks. But these past few years have brought an onslaught of issues that have worn me down.

We’ve had a major construction project lasting more than two years, asbestos abatement, an emergency assessment, two liens, one foreclosure, several owner deaths, bursting pipes, and even a five page nasty letter about a board member mailed to all residents (don’t get me started on that one). It’s like having a part-time job that I do for free and don’t like.

During my HOA tenure, I have experienced a good amount of satisfaction knowing that my time and effort contributes to building a better community, as well as protecting the financial investment of my condo. This time last year, I was also ready to quit, but the other board members asked me to stay and I begrudgingly agreed in order to help wrap up a few big projects. Since then, I see myself getting annoyed easily during our monthly meetings and frustrated with each email or phone call about another random problem to solve . I just don’t want to do this anymore.

I expect that it will again be difficult to leave this year; no one else wants to be president, let alone on the board. But this time around, I will not cave! I won’t let guilt convince me to do something I don’t want to do. I’ve given so much of my time and now it’s someone else’s turn to step up.

But this will not be the end of my volunteerism. I feel it’s important to shift focus from something that mainly benefits me to working for the benefit of others. In the wake of last week’s presidential election, there are an overwhelming amount of charities that need support in the form of time or money. As a fan of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, I’d like to throw out his suggestions of where one can start here.

I’m excited to move on from this project that no longer brings me satisfaction to one that could make a difference to someone more in need. I could use a state of mind shift right about now.

(Image: Herman Turnip)

A look at my post-commute spending

smiling carIt’s been more than three months since I changed jobs and freed myself from a highly unpleasant LA commute. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at my past spending in the categories of gas and food to see the financial impact of this life change. Not only did I gain back hours of my time, but some cold hard cash as well.

With the help of my handy dandy YNAB budget, it was super easy to pull a couple of spending reports and see a clear picture of my last 12-ish months.

Groceries & Restaurants

It’s fun to see those bars going up and down, following the path of my year. Food spending begins fairly steady while unemployed, then bumps up as I start my job in April. Over the summer when the shit hit the fan on my project, I was eating most lunches and dinners catered by work, so spending drops (August is a total blur). When the dust settled, September spending gets really high as I once again have to fend for myself. My Christmas gift arrives early in December in the form of a new job with an employer who supplies free daily breakfast and lunch. There’s a difference of $300 between the October high and February. Wow!

YNAB grocery restaurant trends


This category is much more obvious than above. Pre-commute spending is super low as I job hunt from home through March. It then jumps up over summer as I travel 40 miles per day in stop-and-go traffic and work many weekends. December rolls around and spending is back down with my current commute of 9 miles per day (plus occasional cycling).  There’s a difference of $120 between the July high and February.

YNAB gas trends

I’ll admit that this review didn’t give me much surprise or revelation. It did confirm my assumptions that the job change isn’t just great for my state of mind and free time, but also my pocketbook!

(Image: four12)

Ending this year with a beginning

4040055461_9a7acb34da_zLast week, I started a new job and my old studio. It feels so good to be back in the familiar environment with many of the same, friendly faces. I couldn’t be happier!

What a roller coaster ride this year has been. On December 11, 2014, the project I was working on got shelved and I was informed of my layoff.  Almost exactly a year later on December 7, 2015, I’ve been rehired on a brand new project. I’m back to work that I love on projects that are meaningful to me.

While difficult at many times, my experiences this year have given so much:

  • I’ve significantly grown my professional network.
  • I gained experience in the field of feature and commercial VFX production, which helped solidify my priority to keep a healthy balance between work and personal life.
  • I now have a more senior job title and additional studio on my resume.
  • I’m more skilled and experienced in salary negotiation and am now at a higher salary than I ever would’ve been able to negotiate had I not left the company.
  • The experience of a completely difficult work project tested and strengthened my ability to learn, adapt, and cope with stressful people and situations.
  • I have new friendships with my former coworkers.
  • I have a better appreciation for living close to work. I’m now getting two hours of my life back each day by not commuting across LA. Work is now 10 minutes by car and 20 minutes by bike.
  • Sooo much to write about for this blog!

I’m confident that my professional challenges will continue on this new film, but they will occur in a more supportive and creative environment. Fun and juiciness await! But my next step is to figure out what to do with all of my newly gained free time!

(Image: AndyLangager)

Happy birthday blog!

5778276225_612b742461_zToday marks the one year birthday of my first 10years2halfmil post! I suppose it might better be considered an anniversary, but cats don’t wear funny hats for anniversaries, now do they?

Some introspection

I find it so interesting that I started this blog just a month before getting laid off from a job I loved. Since that shake up, I’ve had such a significant year in my professional life. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. This blog has been a journal of my thoughts and feelings during a challenging period in my life. It’s given me more purpose when I was unemployed, a place to gripe when I was miserable at work, and acted as a creative outlet unlike any I’ve had before. Who knew that yammering on about my life to everyone (or no one) could give me back so much?!

Financial progress

This wouldn’t be a proper personal finance blog without a snapshot of the progress I’ve made over the past 12 months. So here ya go!

Initially, I was disappointed to only see a $17,510 bump up in my savings after a whole year. But taking into consideration that I was unemployed for a month and a half, I suppose it’s not too shabby. It’s in the ballpark of 20-25% of my gross annual income, after all. I’m on track, but could stand to ramp it up to make a bigger impact in the coming year.

I’ve been tracking my net worth on the blog since June, so here’s a graph of my progress:


That’s an increase of more than $36k in five months! It was exciting to cross the $300k mark; I even got an email from Personal Capital congratulating me on the accomplishment…too funny. The rising value of my condo was a significant part of this growth and I expect that to slow down in 2016. Maybe I can reach $350k by this time next year?

Where to go from here

I recently forked over hosting fees for another year, so you’re not getting rid of me just yet. And to my utter surprise and pleasure, I accepted a new job just a few days ago! Who would’ve guessed that two weeks after my blog’s first birthday, I’d be returning to the studio that laid me off less than a year ago? HA! Turns out that a new project is in need of production staff and the producer (who I previously worked with) wants me to be part of the team. My 2+ hour daily commute will shrivel down to 20 minutes and I’ll be back working with people I really like on projects that are meaningful to me. Things sure are looking up.

In blog year two, I plan to expand topics to more than personal finance. I’d like to include more posts related to living a healthier lifestyle, which will likely include:

  • Healthful food and recipes
  • Working out (mainly running, cycling, and weight training)
  • Minimizing stress
  • Maximizing sleep
  • Kicking more ass in life

These are priorities in my own life and I’d like to share my discoveries and strategies with you all along the way. Here’s to another successful year!

(Image: Jessica Fiess-Hill)

My adventure in LA bicycle commuting

15838526718_eddd18dea0_zTwo weeks ago, I got a wild hair up my ass to ride my bike to work. I’m no stranger to all the wonderful things a bike commute can do for the rider and the environment. However, my previous workplace was a mere five miles from home on a flat road with a big, fat bike lane the whole way. Piece of cake.

My new job is a whole different story. Since April, I’ve joined the throngs of people who sit in their cars for hours each day in bumper-to-bumper traffic from my humble San Fernando Valley home to my job on the west side of LA . I feel that it’s a complete waste of my time and is slowly sucking the life out of me. Not a fan. Super lame.

For months, I’d been contemplating trying out the journey on my road bike. I’ve been a cyclist for over 10 years now, having covered thousands of miles throughout southern and central California on two skinny tires. I can handle myself in traffic and felt ready for this challenge, despite the fact that my regular cycling has taken the back burner to trail running over the past year.

On a Wednesday morning, the urge took over. I pumped up my tires, tested my lights, and loaded up a backpack with clothes and lunch for the day.

Morning ride:

I hit the road at 8:30am. My work day starts at 10am and I wanted to give myself plenty of time for the ride and changing clothes once I got there. There was a lot of traffic to dodge, but I enjoyed this leg of the journey:

  • The first climb is a killer, but I gotta get over the hill sooner or later.
  • Fly by the Hollywood Bowl.
  • Right turn at Hollywood High School.
  • Fountain claims to let bikes use full lane, but drivers think otherwise.
  • West Hollywood bike lane! Sweet.
  • Exchanged stop light pleasantries with guy in truck.
  • Beverly Hills Hotel construction zone.
  • Weed dispensaries by the 405.
  • Welcome to Santa Monica, but you won’t be seeing the beach today.
  • Work.
  • Stats: 14 miles; 65 min
Evening ride:
My workday ends at 7pm, so by the time I changed back into my still sweaty cycling clothes, mounted my lights, and arranged the weight of my backpack just right, it was already 7:20. We had a bit of Fall weather that day, so it was chilly and somewhat windy going home. I took a slightly different route:
  • Dang, this all looks different in the dark.
  • Wait. There are TWO Santa Monica Blvds??
  • Hooray again for West Hollywood bike lanes!
  • Troubadour.
  • Hollywood streets are wicked bumpy. Getting tired.
  • Wait. There are TWO Cahuenga Blvds??
  • Why am I going 5 mph on this street that looks flat?
  • Spirit broken. Pulled over to gripe.
  • Back up the final hill! Stopped at the top to order a burger.
  • Flew down the hill, quick stop to pick up that burger.
  • Home safe and sound just before 9pm. Burger and hot shower on the menu.
  • Stats: 16 miles; 88 min

Overall, this was a good experience. But is it worth it? I’m already spending about 2 hours each day car commuting. Bike commuting bumped that up to about 2.5 hours (not including extra time to change clothes and freshen up at work). Am I willing to sacrifice even more of my time for this? Arg.

  • Save money on gas & car maintenance.
  • One less car on the road.
  • Exercise!
  • Way more interesting/exciting than driving.
  • AM route took the same amount of time door-to-door as driving.
  • Danger! LA drivers can be impatient and aggressive, particularly towards cyclists.
  • PM route is in the dark and more uphill.
  • PM route took longer than driving home and was difficult at the end of my work day (at my standing desk).
  • A bit sweaty and less “put together” at work.
  • Can’t make evening plans after work.

The jury is out on whether I’ll do this on a regular basis (or ever again). The good news is that new opportunities for working closer to home continue to spring up!

(Image: ChrisBird)

Setting the dreaded “salary range”

14411658544_a48f5ae516_zHere we go again. I had solid interview with the visual effects company on Friday morning and by that afternoon, they called to say they want to move forward with an offer!  I should expect a call from an HR representative early next week. I’m excited about this, but have learned in recent history that the deal isn’t done until it’s DONE.

In the past couple of months, I received two other offers that fell through after unsuccessful salary negotiations. Neither company was willing to pay what I was asking. These experiences have tested me on an emotional level, realizing that the following factors all go into expectations of compensation:

  • How desperate am I to leave my current job? Moderately, but not desperately. The department I’m now in is much better, but could get boring after some time.
  • Is this new opportunity more fun/interesting/challenging? Seems like it would be more interesting and exciting than my current gig.
  • Is this a staff position with benefits, or freelance? Don’t know yet. Will adjust salary range accordingly.
  • Do I want to work with this new team? Are they friendly/creative/inspiring? I really liked the department head I would be partnering with. I also enjoy working directly with a team of artists.
  • Will this job entail a long commute or excessive overtime? Shorter commute for the next 5 months, then longer when the studio moves into a new facility. Dept head said he does not expect his team to work much OT.
  • Where could this new job lead my career path in a few years? I would be working with studio execs, which could lead to some interesting new contacts and opportunities.

All of this needs consideration when determining the dreaded “salary range”. This is the aspect of the job hunt process that causes me the most stress. They all ask for it. I’ve dodged it, trying to coerce them to start the process with an opening offer, but that’s a true challenge and a skill I have yet to master.

For my current position, they offered to initially hire me on a freelance basis. After picking the brains of a few friends in the VFX business and factoring in the absence of health insurance and a 401k (and match), I gave the recruiter a high range. It ended up being higher than what they were willing to pay, but it prompted them to change the offer to a staff position with excellent benefits at a lower salary. It was more than $200 a week more than my previous job, so it was still a great offer and I took it.

Now, about six months later, I’m having trouble finding a new gig that pays the same. I gave the last two companies a fairly high range and they couldn’t even reach the bottom, so no new job for me. Now, I’m finding myself more gun-shy on where to set my range. There’s so much riding on it!

  • If the range is too far above what they’re willing to pay, it will stop negotiations in their tracks. It could also impair your future hire-ability at that company, thinking you’re too expensive for future positions that might come up.
  • If you give a range that’s too conservative, you could be cheating yourself out of future earnings. Salary upon hire is often your best chance to get the highest pay possible.

In the end, I think the best strategy is to do as much research on the company and type of position as possible (I’ve found helpful). Factor in your current compensation and how much you want the job, and it should lead you to a reasonably happy place. I think I’ve come to a decision on where to start negotiations in the coming days. I will report back next week on how it goes!

(Image: lac-bac)

The power of a professional network

2671066786_696396a8e1_zAfter more than 12 years in the film industry, I’m clearly seeing my professional network come together at a level I never experienced before and it’s exciting!

When I was laid off at the beginning of the year, I started to hustle for a new gig. Many opportunities found me and after much thought (and stress), I chose one. When that job turned sour this summer, I picked up the hustle again. Fortunately, I was able to make an internal move at my company and things are now much sweeter.

What I find so cool is that months later, I continue to see the fruits of my job-hunt labor. It’s clear to me how looking for my next gig while still at my current gig gives me the luxury to be patient and hold out until just the right situation comes along.

Here’s what’s been happening over the past three weeks:

  • A friend of mine heard there was an opening at her animation studio. She knows I’m looking for work closer to home, so she texted me. I interviewed the following day and received an offer within a week.
  • I had emailed a former coworker who’s now working in television animation at a big studio. She got my resume in front of her division’s VP and I interviewed a week later.
  • In March, I went to lunch with an old friend (and former colleague) who is producing at a small television animation studio near my house. She passed my resume on to her boss who is now, seven months later, ready to hire for a new project. She called me last week and I had a great interview on Friday.
  • I was contacted via LinkedIn by a recruiter for an international visual effects company. They’re looking to start a new department in LA and need a manager. I expect he will set up a meeting next week.

While all of these opportunities have the potential to be great for me, they also insight anxiety when so many choices are presented. I’m hard on myself when it comes to making the “right” decision. I keep reminding myself that there is no right or wrong, just different paths! Having my own little network army sure helps that path be long and fruitful.

(Image: mpastwa)

Feel the fear and do it anyway

5606183129_9695c06f9e_zI’ve been in a funk for the past few weeks. Ever since my super difficult, stressful, unpleasant work project ended, my motivation has waned and I’m unsure what my next step should be. It’s like I’ve crashed from the biggest sugar-high of my life.

My gut instinct is to simply walk away from the job ickiness in search of my happy place, but that’s easier said than done. Choosing to leave a job without having another one lined up seems hasty and reckless (but also brave).

I have been hustling over this time, which resulted in a couple of interviews, one declined offer, and many emails to former colleagues. I’m particularly disappointed that my interview earlier this week for an awesome job did not bring in an offer. I remind myself it must not have been the right job for me, but it’s still sad and annoying and I’m allowed to mope over it just a little!

In my ongoing quest for personal development, I recently read Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Among her wisdom is this idea that has become very relevant to me:

The knowledge that you can handle anything that comes your way is the key to allowing yourself to take risks.

This idea is paired with her concept of the “No-Lose Model”, which explains that outcomes of decisions are not right or wrong, they simply take us down different paths. With all of the changes and decisions I’ve been faced with this year surrounding work, it helps me to keep this in mind and trust that I’m moving in the right direction. I second-guess the hell out of myself.

I also came across the following quote that resonates with me:

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.  – Stephen R. Covey

It reminds me that I am in control of my life and my happiness. I have no one else to blame and am not a victim of what happens to me. Dang, I’m powerful!

This week came time for me to make a decision about my job. I could either follow my gut to get the hell out and face unemployment, or change my attitude and find happiness there. I had many good arguments for both choices and finally decided to stay.

I’m somewhat nervous that I’m going against my gut about the place, but I also don’t want to run away just because it’s difficult or uncomfortable. I want to be brave and face the challenge!

Helping matters is that the company has offered me a position in a different capacity that still utilizes my 10+ years of experience in film. Taking my career in this new direction could be pretty interesting. The salary and benefits are great as well, even though I’ll keep the long LA commute. Susan Jeffers would surely agree that I am saying YES to my universe!

Naturally, I’ll still be keeping my eye out for a better gig and already have a meeting next week through a friend referral. I just need to take life one step at a time and keep my fear in check as I go along my merry way.

(Image: Pascal)

Finding the value in myself and my job

1967415678_28fbde92ff_mIf you read last week’s post, you’ll know that I’ve been putting the “always be looking for your next job” adage into practice. In July, I updated my resume and LinkedIn profile in preparation for this. In August, I began emailing contacts and recruiters at specific companies to let them know I’ll be available in September. I’m happy to report that my efforts have been effective in drumming up new job leads.

I received replies from a few studios saying that they may have positions opening up in September and continue to follow up with them. An email to a producer I met back in January (remember that?) resulted in two interviews for a gig on a feature film in Santa Monica. This experience has made me think about the value I place on myself and my new job.

The job was right up my alley, having held very similar positions at my former studio. The familiarity attracted me, as my current job in a different (but related) field has not been a positive experience for the last few months. Returning to the environment I’m more comfortable with sounded like a good proposition.

The first phone call went well. Then, I stopped by the studio for an in-person meeting that also felt good. I was qualified and willing! By the end of that day, I received an offer for a staff position. However, the salary was super low. I already decided that I’d be willing to accept pay somewhat lower than my current rate, which was reflected in the salary range I gave the recruiter. However, the offer came in $150 per week less than the bottom of my range! How disappointing.

This experience caused me to consider a few things:

  1. How important is it to get out of my current job that I dislike? Is it worth wiping out my salary increases for the past two years just to move on?
  2. Am I willing to accept less pay for a lower stress job that I enjoy more? If so, by how much?
  3. Would a considerably shorter commute justify accepting less pay?
  4. If I accepted this job, would I be selling myself (and 13+ years of experience in this industry) too cheap just to get out of a job I hate? Am I undervaluing myself and my skills?

It didn’t take long for me to decide that this offer wasn’t good enough. I do want a new job, but this company clearly wasn’t willing to pay someone with my experience. They are only willing to pay for a more junior manager. I am worth more than that!

Even though the decision to decline was clear, it sure was scary! Turning down a job offer can be frightening. But the fact that I currently have a job made it easier to pass up. And that’s the whole point of this exercise: to look for a job when you have the luxury of being choosy, rather than when you’re already out of work and more desperate.

This experience also caused me to consider giving my current job a second chance. My difficult project ends in about a week and moving on to a new one with different people could make a huge difference in my satisfaction. We’ll see how that goes in the coming weeks.

I will still be on the hunt for my next gig and must always remember the value I bring to my employer and what I value in my work:

  • I am paid what I am worth (in both salary and benefits).
  • I look forward to going to work each day and interact with smart, kind people who respect each other and do meaningful work.
  • A job that’s close to home. This will save me from wasting hours each day in my car, as well as being more responsible for the environment and my finances.
  • A job with reasonable hours, allowing me a healthy balance between my work and personal life.
(Image: MarkOh!)

Always be looking for your next gig

3299301361_a1e019a5af_zHas anyone ever told you that you should always be looking for your next job? I’ve heard that said several times this year and have been thinking about it quite a bit.

Over the past 12 years, I have NOT been following that advice. I have a tendency to be very loyal to my employer; when I get a job, I dig in, get comfortable, and assume that I’m with them for the long haul. I think that’s worked out well for me overall. I’ve enjoyed my jobs, learned a lot, and built relationships that have outlasted my stays with the companies.

However, I do see colleagues of mine who have switched companies much more frequently  and now seem to be ahead of me in position and pay. Naturally, there are a ton of factors that affect one’s career progression, but keeping mobile seems to offer some benefits (at least in my field of film):

Starting salary negotiation

In my spring job hunt, I researched salary negotiation for some advice. It seems that your best chances for higher pay are with your starting salary; once a company has you as an employee, you’re more locked in to getting smaller raises and it’s less likely to get a significant bump up.

Moving from a big company to a smaller one

I’ve worked for some big film studios, staying on for several long-term projects. Establishing yourself at a large company and leveraging that experience to a smaller place can be a smart move. That smaller company could want you to establish proven workflows and practices from your previous employer to their business and would be willing to pay you handsomely for it. Experience and knowledge gained while being a small fish in a big tank could be a valuable commodity to a company looking for you to be a new big fish in their small tank.

Being willing to go where the work is

Keeping mobile and being willing to move with the ebb and flow of job opportunities can prove to be a boon in your career. However, this is something many people don’t want to do. This just happened to me earlier this year with my job offer in Vancouver. It seemed like a great opportunity, but I just didn’t want to make that move to Canada. Trying to coerce myself into doing something that my heart wasn’t into just to potentially progress my career isn’t my style.

Changing jobs can be hard. And scary, stressful, full of uncertainty! It could also be the best thing you do for yourself. I’ve already started putting this adage into practice, as I feel that my new job just isn’t the right fit for me and my lifestyle. I’m aiming to be at a new gig that I love and is closer to home by the end of September. Of course, I’ll let you know how it goes…

(Image: PeterBaker)