K is for K, as in 12K

Apr 13
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice, Conversations

My financial advisor’s corner office literally hovers above Seattle’s Lake Union. From where I sit, you can’t even tell there is a building holding up the room we’re in. A bald eagle soars past the window and then perches on a lamp post to the east. I wonder what it would be like to work in a room with a window. My little therapy office a few miles away in the Green Lake neighborhood is landlocked. No window. No escape route if a fire were to combust outside the door. 

“Let’s look at your numbers,” Andrea said. 

Andrea, elegant, about my age, was recommended by one of my best friends who has been worried about me. Since I don’t have any assets to speak of, my friend wants me to get my money in order. 

“Let’s do it,” I say to Andrea. I take in a deep breath, ready to hear the plan. This is my third meeting with Andrea. The first meeting was a grilling. What were my numbers? Where was my paperwork? What’s my budget? I worked hard to get her all the gory details. My debts, meager savings, and projected Social Security benefit–$1800 per month if I start taking my draw at age sixty-seven—have all been accounted for. In the second meeting, Andrea propped a whiteboard against her freshly cleaned, giant window and schooled me in all things financial. She explained what a bond was, what “tax-deferred” meant, and how the stock market works. I took copious notes and snapped photos of her whiteboard so I could study it later. 

The purpose of this meeting is to unveil the plan that will get me from my current age—fifty-one—to retirement. How much money do I need to be putting away and where should I put it.

“Okay,” she brushes her bangs away from her pretty face and her gold bracelets jangle as she does this. She’s tall, white, with short, dark hair, and red lipstick. “Like I told you, before we can make you rich, we need to make sure you’re not poor.”

I nod. That sounds good. 

“So first we have to get everything paid off. All that debt you accrued setting up your life again after your divorce has to go.”

“Sure, of course.” This isn’t news. I’m working toward being debt free.

“And then I want you to work toward getting sixty-thousand dollars in a money market so you have a cushion.”

I have to catch my breath, but I knew this was coming. She’d already explained to me that I need several months’ worth of living and business-operating expenses liquid and available in case of emergency. Since I work for myself and don’t have an employer who offers long-term disability insurance, I’m vulnerable without money in the bank. I nod again. “Okay, yes,” I say. “That’s on my radar. I’m plunking away at it.” 

“And now for the bad news,” Andrea’s face doesn’t change expression so I don’t panic. I just wait. “If you want to retire at age sixty-seven and live at the same standard of living you have now,” she pauses. I think, Which is to say… living in a dingy little apartment where other people’s homes look in through every window. But I’m listening. “Which is to say,” she picks up where she left off, “living such that your expenses don’t change between now and then, you’re going to need to save TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS per month.” 

I can’t breathe at first. I think I misheard her. “How much?”

“Twelve thousand.”

“Every month?” I ask.

“Yep,” she says.

“Oh, that’s a lot,” I say. Fucking hell, I think. “How is that gonna happen?”

She must be able to feel my panic. “Well I’ve seen people do it.” She tells me the story about a client who started in my situation and ended up being “just fine.” 

 “Just fine” isn’t what I want for my life. There’s no place to go down from “just fine” if you have a bad day, except homelessness. “Okay.” I say again, trying not to cry.  I sit still, look for the eagle outside the window. The absurdity of the situation sinks in. 

 “You alright?” she asks.

 Not so much. “Sure,” I say. “Just thinking.”

She waits for me, pulls her elegant black cashmere sweater more tightly around her. Am I emitting a chill?

Then the seed of an idea comes, and I can feel my heart lighten just a teeny, tiny bit. I faint smile comes to my lips. Andrea cocks her head. “What’s up?” her expression says. 

“I’m just thinking,” I almost whisper this so the idea doesn’t get scared away before I’ve caught it. In fact, I’m thinking about how I’d traveled on a shoestring down to South America the year before. For the cost of a plane ticket and less than a thousand dollars, I’d stayed in some lovely places, eaten good food, bussed myself from city to city, and visited beaches, museums, and art galleries every day. Then I remember years earlier when my ex-husband and I had traveled to Panama and had heard there were ex-pat communities snuggled away in the tropical hills of El Valle de Anton. Next a thought comes about a friend of mine whose father lives full-time in Mexico. “How much is my social security predicted to be again?” I ask.

“You can’t live on that,” Andrea says. “If social security is even still a thing by the time you retire.”

My health insurance policy alone is one third of the $1800 I’m expected to get per month. So for sure I can’t live on it HERE. But Panama must have a way for ex-pats to buy health insurance? Is the health care good there? I make a mental note to do a Google search when I get home. 

“Well, hello Panama,” I say out loud. 

“What are you talking about?”

“I guess I’d better find another country to retire in because this one is just too damn expensive.” 

Andrea nods. She’s sympathetic to my situation. Her job is help people grow their money. I haven’t given her much to work with.             

I gather my things. We shake hands. And I leave the building, get into my Kia, Soul and drive myself home to my apartment to look up, “healthcare for expats in Panama.”

Dear friends, looks like I’ll be leaving you one day to live somewhere where I can afford my life as a retiree. Help me out. Where have you traveled to that you can imagine yourself retiring? Put your suggestions in the comments. I plan to check out some of these places in the next few years! Here are my requirements.

  1. I have to be able to live on about $2000/month.
  2. I have to be able to run alone (I’m reasonable… I’m not expecting to be run through cartel territory–just through a park).
  3. I have to be able to get by with English (hiring a translator sometimes, perhaps) OR with a Romance language I think I can learn (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian).

Dear Friends

Nov 9
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Conversations, Current Events, Reflections

Photo by Josh Adamski

Photo by Josh Adamski

 

Dear Friends Who Live in Places on the Rest of the Planet,

I have visited more than 20 countries (and all seven continents) on this globe. I was not someone who jumped off a plane and booked myself into an anonymous hotel as I was on my seven marathons journey. No. I always seek out connections wherever I go. And I have the gift of having developed and now maintaining friendships with interesting and lovely individuals from many of the countries I’ve been to.

Everywhere I’ve traveled, people have rarely expressed contempt for the American population. Occasionally, well-informed friends (especially in Chile and in parts of Europe) have shared with me their opinions about US politicians or policies, yes, but I have always experienced warmth and openness toward me as an individual and toward Americans as a citizenship.

Thank you dear ones. Today I do not blame you if you are wary of us. We just did something really upsetting and, frankly, despicable. We voted someone into office who would build walls around our country to give you the message that you are not welcome. Someone who thinks you are “less than” if your skin is brown. Someone who will harass and accuse you if your last name sounds Latino. Someone who would grab your “pussy” if you are female. Someone whose best ten-dollar word is “tremendous” and who does not have any idea of the history of YOUR country.

WE did that. WE did that to YOU. Knowing that our wealth, our use of natural resources, our carbon emissions, our purchasing power, our stock market, and many other aspects of our power impact YOUR politics and YOUR individual lives, WE elected this “tremendous” bull-shitter, this dangerous person, into our most powerful office.

I have never written a political blog before. I haven’t done it precisely because my love of running and my love of writing (as a way to inspire others) transcend politics. I know many of my friends and followers over the years come from very different philosophical and cultural backgrounds. I’ve wanted to hold tight to uniting factors: that we are runners, travelers, adventurers, and humans. Most who read my books or blogs are also women.

Today, then, I must speak of this. I must speak of this to and for all of you around this planet that I care so deeply for. I love your countries, your natural spaces, your unique ways of being as people. I respect your histories—the victories and the tragedies. From you I have humbly learned about the effects of my privilege as a white woman born in the United States at this point on the human timeline. And every time I vote—for officials or for policies—I have always kept you in my heart.

This time my keeping you in my heart was not enough. This time a huge portion of the white female vote went to this hostile, ignorant man.

I am sorry; I am sad; I am scared; and I am determined. I am determined never again to shy away from political discussions with friends or family. I am determined to stand up for and stand with my friends of color and my gay and lesbian friends who are now feeling more terrified than ever. I will write my representatives. I will continue to vote. I will look for ways grow in consciousness and in conscious actions.

The United States is not the center of the universe (as I sometimes think our politicians make us out to be), but we do make a lot of noise and we do impact what happens elsewhere. Friends, I cannot even ask you for your patience with my country. I WOULD not ask you for your confidence. I hope that our constitution and the structure of our three-branch government will provide the checks and balances it was created to provide, but I won’t ask YOU to put trust in this.

Today, I only promise you that there are many of us here in my country who know we are citizens of the WHOLE world and who think beyond our own comfort and our own religious and political values. There are many of us who know that poverty and injustice ACROSS THE GLOBE are also our concern. We were not enough to keep this terrible man out of office, but we are not few.

I thank you for your friendship and for welcoming me into your nations, your homes, and your lives. I know you are with me in my grief today. But somehow (I don’t pretend to know how), we must not let fear rule. It isn’t fair for me to look to you for words of hope (though I’ll take them if you have some), but I do believe that humanity is evolving toward wholesomeness and justice in spite of what this looks like.

Love to you all.

Ragnar and Second Wind Seminar

Aug 2
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice, Conversations, Race Reports, Read This, Reflections, SHINE

How Do You Know When It Is Time to Make a Change?

“If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” –Abraham Maslow

The weekend before last I participated in the Northwest Passage Ragnar Relay. This is a 192-mile relay run that snakes its way mostly on back roads from the Canadian border down to Whidbey Island, where teams are rewarded with pizza and beer for being crazy enough to stay awake and on the move for nearly two full days. I was runner number twelve on our team of twelve—the last runner, a position I’m used to and comfortable with.

On one of my legs (the second one of three), the one that started at 5:30 on Saturday morning, I ran for nine miles alone over rolling hills on streets surrounded by evergreen trees. I watched the morning gently emerge and appreciated the coolness in the air even as I was beginning to feel the heat the day promised to burn down on the runner who would take the baton from me.

22389948_race_0.9799319939245625.displayBecause I hadn’t slept for twenty-four hours and was addled with fatigue, my attention was hazy. There wasn’t much traffic, so I didn’t fear a run-in with a car, but I did worry about getting lost. Runners were spread out so far that there were several points on the course when I couldn’t see anyone in front of or behind me. I was grateful that Ragnar had placed signs at every turn. This meant I could do the work of running—placing one tired footfall after the next in a rhythm that echoed the beat of the music playing in my ear—without pulling up the map of the route on my phone. I could focus on the task at hand until a three-foot high blue sign with a red flashing light and an arrow appeared on a street corner.

I never lost my way.

Only later, after a couple nights of good sleep, when I was reflecting on the race during one of my morning meditations, did I realize that those big blue Ragnar signs were a terrific metaphor for something I’ve heard many of my clients talking about in therapy sessions lately. At least five different people have recently said something like this to me: “All of a sudden, when my child left for college (or when my spouse died/when I received this diagnosis/when I got divorced), I realized something had to change. I can’t keep on in this meaningless job (or this cement jungle/this lifeless relationship/this breakneck schedule).”

Follow meMy clients are naming something really important: Life sends us signs when we need to make a change. Events, be they crises or normal life-cycle transitions, are very often signals meant to tell us that it is time to up-level our commitment to life, that it’s time to turn a corner and change directions. Our circumstances call us to re-evaluate our approach to our activities and to our relationships (with self, significant others, work, the body, etc.).

Though change can be anxiety provoking, it’s also an opportunity to upgrade your self-image and renew your vision for your future. It is a chance to catch a second wind for the miles ahead.

I’d love to share with you what my clients are discovering in our work together about how to follow the signs to change direction.

Join me for a FREE tele-conference called:
How to Catch Your Second Wind:
Transforming into the Next and Best Version of Yourself

I’ll be sharing with you what I’ve been guiding my clients through:
The three key tasks that you need to complete in order to catch a second wind.
The number one habit you need to incorporate in your life in order to upgrade your Self-confidence.
How to master jumping over the biggest hurdle that keeps people stuck when they hit a crisis or major life change.

When: Wednesday, August 12 at 5:30pm Pacific Time
Where: On the phone. In the comfort of your own home.
How to sign up: Send me an email (clostman@live.com) with “Second Wind Workshop” in the subject line. I’ll send you the conference number and a reminder email.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –Mary Oliver

(Note: If you don’t want to be added to my emailing list when you sign up for the tele-workshop, let me know.)

New Quest

May 30
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Conversations, Reflections, SHINE

Those of you who have followed my blog for years have wondered where I’ve gone, I’m sure. I’ve been taking an unscheduled hiatus from posting here since shortly after we arrived home from Chile. To be honest, although my five months in Chile were wonderful—full of adventure and beautiful new friendships—it was also a time full of serious reflection for me.

One of the things that came to me while I was in Concepcion was a good old-fashioned sense of my own mortality. I began to think about how short time is on this globe, too short to let life pass without really committing to living out our fullest potentials.

Part of the reason I was reflecting on this is that I had downloaded the Feminine Power course by Claire Zammit and Katherine Woodward Thomas, which I listened to whenever I ran alone on my signature Maslowroute around the U de C campus. In the course, Claire and Katherine, two women I would call “evolutionary leaders,” talk about how right now, more than at any other time in history, western women enjoy the opportunity to be asking questions about self-actualization. This is luxury our foremothers did not enjoy (and a luxury many women around the world still do not enjoy) due to their location in the social stratosphere, financial dependence, and lack of available birth control. Claire and Katherine’s message—that to whom much is given much is required—really resonated with me.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to save the world. For many years, when I was involved in an evangelical faith, I thought that meant saving people’s eternal souls by telling people what they should believe. In the days since I gave up that notion, I haven’t been sure what my contribution on the planet should be, but I’ve always felt strongly that I wanted to leave this place better than I found it.

Only how? There are SO MANY causes I feel passionate about: saving elephants from poachers, cleaning up the massive island of plastic that lives in the ocean, protecting orca whales from toxins that may have been making the NW resident pods infertile in recent years, stopping human sex-trafficking and female mutilation, etc.

As I listened to the FP course over and over on my little runs, I came to a place of clarity. I had to come home and do what I was born to do: to bring healing to people who are stuck in their pain. I suddenly realized that I was perfectly positioned to see EVERY single one of my causes attended to because I had the gifts and skills to free people up out of their small visions of themselves so they can live bigger, more contributing lives.

I knew I had to go back to helping people tell their stories—in therapy and in memoir. When people tell their stories, they move beyond them.

So I’m on a new quest. I’m still running of course (I’m off to a half marathon as we speak), but I’m committing significant energy to growing my business(es) this year and next. For starters, I re-opened my therapy practice in the Seattle area and am also offering online memoir writing classes. Both of these endeavors are bringing me a lot of joy, but there’s more joy to come, too! I’ve hired a coach to help me develop a program that will help my clients quickly break through their inner glass ceilings so they can launch themselves into the causes that are meaningful to them (I’m calling it SHINE, of course).

So forgive my absence here on 7marathons7continents. I’ve been busy. Follow me here on my new quest. I can always use your cheerleading and encouragement. Running is the practice that keeps me centered, and the running community is my Sanga. I can feel your support.

The “H” in SHINE

Jan 30
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Conversations, Current Events, SHINE

Before I get to the “H” in SHINE, I want to tell you about a new development in my life:

I’m re-opening my practice in the greater Seattle area! After several years of focusing on my writing and on virtual coaching, I’ve decided to re-open my therapy doors. On Mondays I’ll be working out of the Eastside Psychological Associates’ office in Woodinville and on Tuesdays I’ll be seeing clients near Greenlake in Seattle—both coaching and therapy clients at that location. (For those of you wondering, I’m not moving out of B’ham, just spending Monday nights down south so I can put a couple of days in.)
 
Obviously, I’ll be taking new clients and will be delighted to have referrals, so feel free to forward my email on to anyone who might be interested. clostman@live.com

 

Now for the “H” in SHINE

Hold your life gently. What does this mean?

HandsThe opposite of holding something gently is to hold it tightly. When you hold something white-knuckled and squeezing for all your worth, you’re attached to it, clinging to it, needing it, wanting it. I don’t know about you, but I hold plenty of things in my life quite tightly. Especially, I think, we are prone to hold definitions of ourselves very close to us. Most of us, after all, want to BE who we think we are; we want others to think we are who we say we are. And we spend a lot of time trying to prove we are who we wish we were. Whew! What a lot of work.

My narrative about myself was challenged during my 5-month trip to South America. In order to go to Chile, I had to put my life at home on hold. Most of the pieces to the puzzle that is me needed to be taken apart and placed in storage, so to speak. Our two sweet little dogs went to live with my friend and neighbor, Julie. Our home went to Hilda, who also took care of the cat. The responsibilities I carry for the Red Wheelbarrow Writers were sloughed off to several dear friends who were willing to each take on roles I had been filling (and who did a better job with them than I ever did—thank you, amigos). And most of my clients, friendships, and writing routines were all put on hold, too. Just to get to Concepcion, I had to strip down my world to me, myself, and I—and a suitcase full of clothes that I knew I would hate by the time I’d worn and re-worn them for five months.

I undertook my strip-down happily and willingly, but I didn’t anticipate how leaving behind the trappings of my life would impact me. Once I was on foreign ground, I felt a little out of control, to be honest. While we were in Chile, every time I thought of my dogs, I could do no more than to send a prayer out to the universe that they were okay. Or when I thought of my elderly grandparents, again, I had to consciously offer them to Life to take care of; I could not drive them to doctor appointments or take them out to breakfast (things I do when at home that delude me into thinking I have some influence over their well-being). My loss of control of my life back home was at once terrifying and freeing. Terrifying because I began to realize that my long-held sense of jurisdiction over details was—had always been—an illusion. And freeing because I discovered my sense of identity was not tied to all of the things I thought of as “ME.” In Chile I was not acting as writer or coordinator for other writers, doggie mom, best friend who is always there to talk you through something, therapist, grand-daughter, homeowner. I was just this woman no one knew at first—someone who could be anyone.

It’s rare that most people get the opportunity to open possibilities of identity the way that I did, or at least it is rare that we consider holding our sense of identity with open palms. The narrative of who you are has been, as is true for me and for everyone else in the world, a carefully designed structure, built on the foundation of your history, your activities, and your relationships. But WHAT IF you are more/other/beyond what you know yourself to be.

What if you left your life behind and started brand new as someone else?

I’m not suggesting that you do this!! I mean, even a zillion miles away from home, you carry definitions and attachments with you to a huge degree. I, for example, still Skyped with my friend to check on my dogs, called my grandparents regularly, and called Hilda to look in on the house and the cat. I still knew that I was a writer, a runner, a friend, a wine- and pet-lover. But I also felt I might be more than those things.

Holding our self-definitions very gently, without grasping after what we don’t have control over, can give a person a sense of possibility, a chance to imagine what ELSE we are. What else might you be if you loosened your grip on how you think of yourself? What roles do you have in your life that most define you? And even if you love those roles, what might be freed up in you if you didn’t fill them for a time?

You don’t have to travel around the world to open your mind to new possibilities in your life. In my upcoming SHINE program, I will be sharing some of the discoveries I made about how to dream big. Most people I’ve worked with—therapy clients and writers alike—have a feeling they are not living into their greatest potential. Holding your life—and the self-definitions life has given you over the years—gently can revolutionize the possibilities you see for yourself.

In the 7-week SHINE program I will be talking about how how you see yourself is directly linked to the choices you make in life. We will do a powerful visualization that will help you press through limitations that have held you in place or made you feel stuck. 

SHINE program details:
When: Seven Thursdays, beginning February 25. 4:00-5:30pm PST (with an additional 30 minutes afterwards for discussion applicable especially for writers).
Where: On the phone. Conference call-in numbers provided to participants.
What: Lecture, opportunities to be coached, homework assignments, bonus writing assignments.
Cost: $99 — To sign up, click here.