Thursday, July 27, 2017

Let's Talk About Mental Health

You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength.
-Marcus Aurelius
When I was 14 years old, I dislocated my patella while playing basketball. Naturally, it took a while to recover, and I was in a full leg cast for about 5-7 weeks, and crutches for a while after that. I remember finding it very easy talking about the incident whenever anyone asked - I naturally (and correctly) assumed that they would understand.

"Oh yeah, I dislocated my knee. Should be fine soon, though! I just need to take some time to recover."

Fast forward a few years later - I found that it wasn't that easy to talk about my experience with depression. In the spirit of being open, and vulnerable (and let me tell you that I'm not too fond of being vulnerable), because of some conversations I've been having recently, and given that it's been more than 4 years since, I decided that it was about time to share.



It was my junior year of college that this happened. We all have downward spirals sometimes - it's just that this one time, I kept spiralling, and had no idea how to get out of it. Fuelled by a fear of what the future would hold (or not hold), things seemed to get harder, not easier.

Luckily for me, my experience was on the milder side, I had the support of an amazing counsellor at Sewanee, and friends who made sure I was okay - and eventually, I was.

However, the experience was (and still is) hard to talk about. I remember waiting to tell close family and my best friend up until the summer I was back in Kenya. Sometimes, when I did talk about it, the conversations went something like this:

"Oh, we've had hard experiences too! Maybe we have more of a reason than you to be depressed, right?"

"But you're always so happy and positive! You can't have been depressed."

"Yes, that's all very well - let me tell you about the hard times in MY life now."

Nowadays, even if I feel a 'normal' downward spiral coming on, I take care to push my mental health at the top of my priority list. There are certain things that I need to do, including regular exercise and sleep among others (my wellness rituals, if you will), to ensure that I'm emotionally healthy. Partially because I know that I have no active desire to experience again what I did those years ago - and also because I know that it's important to look after mental health, no matter who you are and what you do or do not suffer from.

We're in the 21st century, and prioritising, taking care of, or even talking about mental health is still a taboo. This is especially true in the culture and country that I come from, where vulnerability is frowned upon.

Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a colleague about the importance of everyone looking after their mental health, and reasons why people didn't, and I also read a great article online about a CEO who went out of his way to commend a colleague for taking a mental health day at work - and in doing so, sparked conversations across the globe about what we can do to make work environments more mental health friendly. I highly recommend that ALL of you read what the CEO had to say.

I especially loved this quote:
It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.
What do I hope we'll take away from this? There is nothing wrong with taking care of your mental health. There is no stigma in talking about mental health. Sometimes, people suffer with mental health issues - instead of stigmatising their experiences and alienating them, we should support them to the best of our capacity.

Let's start up conversations with our friends, in our workplaces, in our homes, to remind those around us that mental health IS important and should NOT be neglected, and let's be sure to support those who are already championing this vital cause.

Leaders especially have the power and the responsibility to role model this behaviour, and to encourage their peers, networks and organisations to carry on this conversation. A HUGE kudos to Ben Congleton of Olark, for doing exactly that.

Do you have stories of colleagues and leaders who have encouraged the prioritisation of mental health, or a time when you yourself felt empowered to do so? I'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to share in the comments below (anonymously if you so wish), or on the Facebook post below:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Personal Financial Management: Follow Up

About a year ago, I had written a post about personal financial management, and thought that it'd be a good idea to do a follow up - let you know how well these tips have actually worked for me, and reflect on them a little bit.

We'd discussed some common money mistakes that we make:
  • Not prioritising savings
  • Having a very vague idea of where your money goes
  • Forgetting non-monthly expenses in monthly budgets
  • Spending more than we need to
  • Living paycheque to paycheque
  • Getting into unnecessary debt



And we also discussed some tips to help us avoid these mistakes:

1) Prioritise savings: I think this is one of the tips that has worked best for me, and one that I've been able to follow religiously. How did I do it? I set a savings target that is a percentage of my income, and whenever any money comes in, the first thing I do is transfer the target into savings, and treat that as an expense. The savings target will obviously depend on you - some people do 5%, some 10%, some can probably do 50%!

It's also been very helpful to me to set up a separate savings account at another bank - this way, I've made it harder to be able to withdraw from this particular account! 

I'm interested to hear - what are some systems you've set up to make sure you prioritise saving?

2) Know where your money is going: I've been amazed at how helpful this has been! Just being able to track where and when I spend has enabled me to save much more than I had before. I highly, highly recommend Toshl. I use both the app, and the desktop version, and add all my expenses as soon as is possible. 

3) Create a budget: Going beyond just knowing where you're spending to actually planning your spending, a budget is the important next step in personal financial management. I haven't been able to use this for all my expenses, but using Toshl, I'm able to track where I spend the most, and have created budgets for these categories. 

What are some tips you use when creating and managing budgets?

4) Cut out unnecessary expenses: Important note - this is NOT advocating misery! However, it's definitely an important part of the journey toward financial freedom, and it's a function of being able to execute tip number 2 properly. 

Personally, at the end of the month, when I sit down and look at my month's activities on Toshl, I'm able to challenge myself on certain expenses - preventing me from making similar mistakes the next month

5) Do not live paycheque to paycheque: It may seem like this is a luxury not many of us can afford, but think of it this way- would you be willing to afford it if you were not getting any income for the next three months and had to live on what you already have

Again, being able to successfully implement tips 1 -4 will make it much, much easier to stop depending on the next paycheque.

6) Avoid unnecessary debt: I'm no debt expert, but someone once told me that the golden rule of debt is this - if you're taking debt to buy something that loses value (like a car) as opposed to something that gains value/adds to your value (like education), then that's bad debt. 

I'd love to hear if any of you have tips for avoiding and managing debt!

Personal financial independence may seem like a distant goal - but these tips have helped me significantly, and I hope they do so for you too!



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