Preparing for Spring: Lessons Learned from New York – New Jersey Too! (Part 1 of 3)

statue of liberty ellis island

I just got back from an amazing trip to New York City – and New Jersey too! Hence, the lack of posts in the last week or so. What an awesome trip. My husband and I killed three birds with one stone: 1) We volunteered for a self-development seminar, 2) we explored New York City, and 3) my husband networked with some of the best in his industry.

Our vacations are usually planned as relaxation trips – go to the beach, sit around, soak in the sun, sleep in until noon – or family trips – run to one auntie’s house, eat, run to another auntie’s house, eat again, hang out with cousins. This time we decided to make it a productive trip by planning it around events of giving and self-investment.

It was 10 days of non-stop action, and throughout those 10 days I had many epiphanies. Besides learning that “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” signs are merely suggestions, that you better “move in” on the subway during peak time, and that I could never drive in Manhattan without killing someone or getting killed, I had a few “aha” moments related to health, fitness, and mindset that I thought I’d share with you.

Lessons are everywhere, as long as you’re open to seeing them.

So, this is Part 1 of 3 of my New York City/New Jersey vacation diaries. Here we go!

Getting Ready for the Spring
We flew into Newark Airport, and damn was it cold! The residents of New Jersey and New York City just had tons of snow dumped on them, and remnants greeted us on the sidewalks and side of the streets. Winter was definitely in the air.

Remember, my husband and I are from Seattle, where it rarely ever gets colder than 33 degrees, and we walked into 20-degree weather. After wandering around Jersey City, we finally found our friends’ condo and got ready for a long first weekend in New Jersey.

The first part of our trip was spent in Jersey City. We volunteered to be on a coaching/support team for an awesome self-development seminar which teaches you how to live your life with passion and purpose, and how to maintain harmony among all areas of your life. It was high-energy, highly purposeful, deeply moving, and extremely conscious. I learned things about myself and others that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Five hundred people flew in from all over the world for this event. Twenty-two volunteers flew in from all over the world as well, on their own dime, to help. I looked around at the sea of faces in that hotel ballroom, and thought to myself, Recession? What recession?

I was glad to be surrounded by people who weren’t afraid to invest in themselves during these “tough economic times.” It takes some kahones to see beyond the world in constant worry, bombarded by negative messages from the media that we’re all going to hell in a handbasket and doomed for starvation and pillaging, and understand that it’s part of the regular cycle of our economic world.

I recently read in the latest edition of Success Magazine that some of today’s largest and most successful companies were founded during our nation’s toughest economic times. For example, Microsoft began during the 1975 recession, and HP began during the Great Depression. I once heard that Warren Buffet made his fortunes by investing when everyone else was holding tightly to their money.

These people, along with the 500+ I spent time with in Jersey City, understand that in times of struggle, there is opportunity. And when we’re on a downturn, it must mean that there will be an upturn to follow.

This is our winter. The trees are bare, ice covers the ground, and all looks baren and desolate. But if you look hard enough, you can see the beauty in the snow, and the sun just might peak out from behind the clouds. And no matter how dark and gloomy it looks, you know that spring is coming, when everything will be born anew, and all will flourish.

An optimistic view? Yes it is. Did you know that research has shown that a high level of optimism is a vital component to predicting high achievers?

The lesson I learned from Jersey City? Now is the time to study, invest in yourself, and prepare to take full advantage of the spring when it comes. I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that understand this. We are encouraging people to invest in themselves, get training, build their skillsets so they are able to take advantage of opportunities today and so they can flourish when we get through these tough times. And we will get through them.

It’s scary, I know, but we must trust that the spring is coming. It has to. The lower you crash, the higher you’ll rebound.

The weekend was packed with information, memories, and lots of love. I was inspired by those around me and by myself as well. Our days started at 6:00 in the morning and ended at 12:30 in the morning. But it was well worth the 2 hours of sleep, the time, and the money we put into it.

By volunteering for this event, I learned a lot and helped myself by helping others. I invested in myself, which is one of the best investments you could ever make.

Our weekend in Jersey City came to a close. I made some new friends and got to know some old ones better. I invested in myself, in others, learned that the New Jersey Light Rail system is awesome, and that ShopRite has some great deals on Greek yogurt. And then after a fulfilling and enlightening three days in Jersey city, we set out for New York City.

I leave you with a picture of our amazing group of volunteers, the “Dream Team”, and a question: What are you doing to prepare for the Spring?

The Dream Team

The Recession Slim-Down to Bulk-Up Plan

dollar_sami-keinanenRecession this, recession that. Everything is about this darned recession lately! Frankly, I try not to dwell on it, but I have to admit that sometimes – just sometimes – I catch myself thinking twice before purchasing something because I should be saving money during “these hard times.”

Today, for instance, I was standing in line at the Starbucks stand in my building, eyeing the pumpkin loaf. Mmmm, pumpkin loaf… As I unzipped my wallet and reached for the dollar bills, my hand stopped, and the thought flashed through my head, I really should save my money.

Like the $1.45 was that significant, since I can honestly say I never purchase the pastries out of the Starbucks case (when I’m at work, at least. *wink*) But then it occurred to me: Hm, this recession thing just might work to my advantage in some ways.

As Leo Babauta would say in his ever-popular uber-blog, Zenhabits.net, “Less is more.” Here are ten ways you can save money during these “tough economic times” while improving and simplifying your life for the better, and maybe even while getting healthier and happier.

1. Cancel your cable. If you’re anything like I was, you’re wasting too much precious time watching celebrity reality shows on VH1 or reruns of Sex and the City. Save yourself 50 to 100 bucks a month, and save your brain from turning to mush. Aren’t there better things you could be doing with your time?

2. Eat more veggies. Eat less meat (the average person usually needs no more than 4-6oz. per meal) and replace it with tons and tons of vegetables! I got a bunch of organic kale for less than $1 the other day, and splurged on exotic veggies like baby bok choy and chayote squash for mere pennies too! Experiment with different kinds, and you won’t get bored. Head down to your local farmers’ market or Asian market and be adventurous!

3. Walk, take the bus, or bike. Save cash on gas, save the earth from your car’s emissions, and save yourself the stress. Instead, get some exercise or read a good book on the bus.

4. Cancel your newspaper subscription. What are you absorbing into your brain on a daily basis? The news is full of cynical, pointless, and depressing stories that only make you believe the world is a horrible place, and we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, so why even try. Try going on a media fast, and you’ll find that you just might be more energized. If you’re the type who absolutely has to know everything that’s going on, try a modified version: Allow yourself to skim the homepage of a news website, but allow yourself to only click on links to positive stories.

5. Learn to cook. The other day I made a healthy, fulfilling meal for about $5 per person: grilled organic free-range chicken in a homemade Asian-inspired sauce, steamed chayote squash, and brown rice. Cooking is so much cheaper than eating out, and you’ll save yourself the artificial ingredients, saturated fat, and sodium you’d get at a restaurant.

6. Just be. What is the cheapest possible form of entertainment? Doing nothing. What do you mean, Julie? How can I do nothing? Sit in a quiet place – somewhere in nature or even your favorite arm chair will do nicely – close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Pay attention to your breathing, quiet your mind, and just be. That’s right – for literally $0 you can reduce stress in your life, get some good oxygen circulating through your body, and get to know yourself!

7. Cut the venti caramel macchiato. Drink tea. Venti caramel macchiato: $4.00, 300 calories, 39 grams of sugar, caffeine jitters. Tall unsweetened green tea: $0.45, 0 calories, antioxidants, minimal caffeine. ‘Nuff said.

8. Play. Instead of paying an arm and a leg at the movie theater to sit in a dark room and not talk to your family or significant other, why not spend some quality time with them by playing in the park, playing a board game, or going for a walk?

9. Get a library card. It’s an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord for your mind – and it’s all FREE FREE FREE! Take advantage of your local library and all the free knowledge, adventures, romance, and laughs that live in its books.

10. Volunteer. Head down to your local homeless shelter, elementary school, or check out United Way for a volunteer opportunity that excites you. In “this economy”, rather than focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have, give thanks for it, and give it freely – whether it’s your time or your money. It’ll come back to you tenfold in ways that you don’t expect.

There you have it – my “Recession Slim-Down to Bulk-Up Plan.” The recession is a great excuse to slim down on things that waste your time or aren’t good for you or the environment, and bulk up on things that feed your mind, body, and spirit.

How are you slimming down to bulk up?

Photo credit: Sami Keinanen