Thursday, February 11, 2010

Life as a Fire Hose and Tending to Two Gardens

I recently gave a talk on “Tweet, Friend and Connect: Social Media Trends in the Insurance Industry,” for the fine folks at Peak Performance Insurance Ski Conference 2010. I stayed at the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa, a lush hotel in Avon, Colorado that was a dream in dark wood, stainless steel, marble bathroom with a huge glassed in shower, pristine white linens, and much to one of my daughter’s delight, two flat screen TVs.

Prior to my presentation, I listened to two really knowledgeable men, obvious experts in their areas of insurance. I studied their styles, one quite informal, stepping off the platform and walking the floor like a talk show host. The other fellow was not comfortable with presenting and was struggling with the altitude, but he found his humor and pace after admitting his fear and trepidation at public speaking. I was third in line and stood at the back of the room, something I like to do in order to get a sense of who is listening and those who are on their PDAs or netbooks.

As the conference host introduced me, I headed up to the podium and took a minute to look at the crowd. I asked them about who had a computer, a pda, internet access and put them at ease when I pretended to walk off stating, “all right, I guess I’ve done my job.” But when I stepped back behind the podium, a different energy level hit in. After 30 minutes, I had given them a great deal of specifically useful information and had achieved my goal of sparking their interest, despite a very healthy degree of cynicism. After all, these are insurance folks; they’re in the business of risk analysis, so I didn’t expect them to drink the social media punch in one gulp. I let them take little sips, challenging them to articulate to their customers, industry and colleagues why they weren’t participating. They nodded their heads and smiled. I was asked to stay for the panel and I finished with a great deal of satisfaction at a successful time.

But when I stepped into the elevator, I held the door for a gentleman. The doors closed and he said, “Wow, you were like a fire hose up there. A real fire hose.” I laughed and thanked him, saying it was a lot of information to pack into 30 minutes. I got off at my floor and had a good laugh when I got back to my temporary palace.

A fire hose? I’m not sure the gentleman meant it as a compliment or a criticism, but as I drove back home, it certainly got me thinking about my energy expenditure. I have an enormous amount of energy and always have struggled with the balance between expenditure and renewal. If being a fire hose means constantly putting out fires, then hell yes, that would be me. And of course, because I’m so focused on the state of my financial state, I’ve been thinking of this description as it relates to my relationship with money.

Am I a financial fire hose? Yes, I’d have to say, yes, that would be a good description. If a fire hose means either being turned on full force or shut off, yeah, I’ve done that back and forth between spending way too much and not spending at all. Sort of a binge and purge relationship money; I have it, I spend it. I don’t have it, I expend all my energy trying to get it.

Just like the weatherization process that is now allowing our 90% furnace to operate at its’ most efficient energy output, I need to review my fire hose tendency and see if there isn’t a more efficient way to expend my energy output. 

So how do I transform myself from fire hose to let’s say, a more sustainable drip irrigation system, where the water goes where it’s needed when it’s needed and in the right amounts and distributed evenly.

Granted, it’s been a particularly hard winter and spring is hinting at me around the corner. I’m itching to get my hands into the dirt. But the metaphor is a good one and appropriate to what I’m trying to do. By tilling the ground of my life, of my finances. To weed out the noxious plants, or the plants that didn’t make it through the winter. To take the time to plan my financial garden. If I turn on the hose with full force, I flood the new seeds and overwhelm the soil. If I ignore it, then I risk allowing the ground to dry up and to will have wasted my time, energy and money.

It’s the same thing with my financial garden. I’ve been sticking to my personal 21 Day Financial Fast and it’s been a good experience this week. I’ve only gone shopping for food twice, school supplies once and have cut down on our driving. We baked Valentine’s Day goodies for the girls’ classes and they chipped in their allowance for their much desired store bought cards. We created a fun meal plan and have even come up with a new way to cook ground turkey! I’ve identified the credit cards that need to be paid down and have a plan to begin that when our work situation gains more momentum, which I’m happy to say is happening.

But I need more help. I recognize that the fast is just a cleansing process, but like any fast, it’s way too easy to go back to the habits that brought about the fast in the first place. So I’m exploring what free financial education classes I can gain access to, one that doesn’t require me to pay for a suite of tools or sell anything, but one that will give me the real life tools to plant and tend to my financial garden just as it is – small.

This spring I’ll be planting two victory gardens, the humble vegetable and herb garden outside my kitchen window, and the financial one. Maybe if I can do this and channel my fire hose personality into a really effective and water conserving one, both gardens will grow as lush as it is in my dreams and intentions, and will be enough to care for my family.

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