Ownership?

I paid off my car this month. After six years, it is finally mine. At last, I own it. 

And I don’t just mean “I have physical possession of the vehicle.” I mean that it’s mine

It is a debt that has been completely, fully paid off. 

Which got me thinking about how little any of us actually own. 

America prides itself on being a land where you can have your own piece of the pie. In fact, homeownership itself at some point became synonymous with “The American Dream.”

As one who went from house to apartment and is again looking for a house, I can tell you that being a “homeowner” is a misnomer. You really “own” nothing. 

Your bank owns the house until you pay off the mortgage some thirty years later. And even then, if you don’t pay your property taxes, the State can do all sorts of fun legal things to make you pay…including putting a lien on your house. 

I suppose if you’re a homesteader, you can perhaps get around some of this. But there are so few ways to be truly left aloneContinue reading “Ownership?”

The College Post: What You Learn At University (and Whether It’s Worth the Price)

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I’ve spent ten years attending universities of one form or another. No, this is not bragging. But I think I have a pretty good perspective on what college can and cannot do for you.

For those who like to keep score, here are the expensive pieces of paper I with fancy writing that I have collected in my lifetime:

  • A Bachelor’s degree in history, with a focus on pre-Revolutionary and early American history up to and through the Civil War (4 years)
  • A Master’s degree in political science, with a focus on international relations (2 years)

  • A juris doctor (3 years)
  • A Master’s in business administration (1 year)

The title of this post says it all, and probably spoils the denouement. And many who talk about college these days, myself included, tend to concentrate on what a waste of time and money it is (it is). I’m going to do something a little different, though, and talk about the things that university can teach you. Here we go.

Time Management: This is true for all college, but I found it to especially be the case when I was in law school.

I honestly didn’t find college all that difficult in general, likely because I largely studied subjects firmly within the liberal arts and humanities and not science or engineering. But even so, the sheer amount of material that gets thrown at you in college can be staggering. It’s all about prioritizing, not just your work, but your life. I did learn how to juggle several different projects, meet deadlines, and handle a busy schedule while maintaining a personal life. These skills have helped me immensely in my professional career. I would break time management down into three phases

  • Priorities: Work big-to-small, and do the important stuff first. Sometimes what’s most important means what is due first. But keep in mind that importance is not always based on time.
  • Balance: If you burn yourself out, you will do nobody any favors. You also don’t want your personal relationships to suffer. Lastly, you still want to be well-rounded and “interesting,” not just for your own edification but, like it or not, most job interviews nowadays are more like personality tests than tests of raw skill and experience. Potential employers want to see if you pass the “canoe test”: “Would I want to be stuck in a canoe with this person?” How you look on paper is only a part of it. Cultivate your life. (Ed Latimore writes a lot of great stuff about personal development, so go read his entire blog.)
  • Focus: When you start something, finish it. Avoid needless distractions, and get your work done. This is an absolute necessity in almost every university program, whether it’s based in science, the arts, or the humanities. It’s so obvious, yet focus is a learned skill. Tuning out the world–and other assignments–to finish this one is not always an easy thing. How do you learn this? Through reps (necessity) and straight-up aversion (not wanting to waste time and money). You learn via practice to develop what Mike Cernovich calls “ruthless focus,” a useful skill no matter what you do. That said, you are focusing on meeting the specific requirements of your professor, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since in life, if you are working for someone else, either a boss or a client, you really are a slave to their requirements.

Dealing with Difficult People: The world is full of jerks. Many of them tend to congregate at American universities, both as students and as professors. And guess what: By and large, you have to learn how to deal with them. We all share the same real estate here on Earth, after all.

What I learned is the ability to pick my battlesThere were so many instances where I could have gotten into it with students and teachers, but wisely didn’t. The question to ask is, to use a sports metaphor: Does this conversation move the ball forward for me? If yes, do it. If no–whether if the ball stays doesn’t move at all or actually goes backwards–it’s not worth it, especially in today’s college environment where you can get disciplined for wrongthink.

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Becoming an Autodidact: When you’re writing any kind of research paper, or a legal brief, you need to DOCUMENT AND SUPPORT ALL OF YOUR SOURCES WITH CREDIBLE AUTHORITY. In the law, this is through DULY ENACTED STATUTES AND LEGALLY BINDING PRECEDENT, though certain non-binding, extra-jurisdictional cases or articles and commentaries. And as with any kind of authority, PRIMARY SOURCES ARE BEST. Continue reading “The College Post: What You Learn At University (and Whether It’s Worth the Price)”

Heart and Treasure

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:21

Financial discipline has always been a little bit of a problem with me. Not that I’m delinquent on any bills–I have never missed one in my life, whether it be rent, mortgage, car, utility, Internet, credit card, insurance–but I don’t really save.
I also ran into some tough times of joblessness, and took time during one bout of joblessness to go back to school. And how does one fund this, even with a wonderful wife who works very hard?

Why, by selling personal possessions, using savings, and going into debt.

What kind of debt? Credit card debt.

Now, this credit card saved me a few times, and as I said I have never missed a payment. It’s just been difficult to pay off the whole thing, even though I (a) use it for staples like things my son needs, gas, food, clothes, (b) use it for situational things that come up (birthday or other gifts for family, medical bills, car repair), and (c) pay more than the minimum due every single month.

But I am yet to get it down to zero.

Just as a way of background, in my previous job-search blog, lost unfortunately to the sands of time, I wrote about this issue a little over a year ago when I had just started this current job. I had saved some of my posts in Word format, so they aren’t totally lost in the ashes of an inadvertently deleted WordPress blog:

Regarding food, let’s just say that it’s been a little tough, given my penchant for the stuff, but it’ll be good seeing as how I really would like to lose a stubborn 20 or so pounds I put on since I last shed a whole bunch of weight. I figure $150 should keep me going for a month, provided that I don’t eat out too much, buy coffee outside of the house, lay off of the alcohol and the cigars, and generally spend frugally

*     *     *

All told, I’m doing alright so far. Food-wise, I’ve been portioning everything out and meal-planning well in advance. Here’s what I did: I bought a three-pack of pork chops, a four pack of chicken breast, two cucumbers, six tomatoes, a bag of onions, a little garlic, three bags of frozen vegetables, a rotisserie chicken, salt, pepper, lemon pepper, four cans of tuna fish, four boxes of soup, a dozen eggs, a bag of apples, a half-gallon of milk, a half-gallon of orange juice, a box of cereal, and a huge can of coffee. Most, if not all, of this was store brand, and good Lord is the price difference shocking! And guess what? There is barely a perceptible difference in taste. I swear I saved over thirty bucks just by buying generics.

So I hard-boiled the eggs to have for breakfast, ate half of the rotisserie chicken that day, the other half the next, grilled three pork chops with onions and steamed the broccoli which, so far, has lasted me two days and will suffice again for dinner tomorrow. I’ve also been portioning out my salad because, come on! Greek boy’s gotta have his salad. And then an apple serves as desert. A little Spartan, yes, but I have family from there and I need to be as frugal as possible. I’m trying really hard to turn over a new leaf now that I have a job that pays MORE than I could have gotten right out of undergrad, pay down my debts, and save. The idea isn’t to just save a nickel, it’s to make a buck while saving a nickel!

As you can see, this has been a concern of mine for a while. Continue reading “Heart and Treasure”

Debt and Ingratitude: Nine Lessons I Learned as a Collections Attorney

Like most Americans, I have had my struggles with debt. But did you know I’ve spent some time on the other side of that relationship?

That’s right! The first job I got out of law school was as one of those lovely lawyers who goes around trying to collect on judgments, using all of the frightening mechanisms made available through our wonderful Anglo-American legal system.

Basically, I was a knee-breaker with a JD.

Sounds exciting, right?

Spoiler alert: It sucked.

Not only was the work long and hard and the pay utter garbage (for real; you could make more with an undergrad degree in making coffee), having this blight on my resume made it harder to get a job doing any other kind of law.

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But it was not all for naught. I did get better legal jobs eventually, and as with those, I did learn some things from those debt-collection days. And so, in the grand tradition of my man Neil White from This Dad Does before me, here are Nine Lessons I Learned as a Collections Attorney, with the overarching lesson, of course, being don’t go to law school: Continue reading “Debt and Ingratitude: Nine Lessons I Learned as a Collections Attorney”