Friday, July 24, 2015

Are You Looking for A Roadmap?

Once upon a time, most of us knew exactly what was expected of us and we yearned to meet those expectations: get an education, find a good job, have some fun until you find a nice partner, and eventually start a family.  About 80% of women will accomplish this by the time we are 40, but then a funny thing happens, as we realize we are at the half-way point in our life expectancy-- we find ourselves asking some difficult questions: can I keep working the same job and/or living with the same partner for another 20 years?  Are there things I have left undone and still want to accomplish before it is too late? And beneath it all is the ultimate question: what do I need to be truly happy?

Those that find themselves contemplating the road that lies ahead are not having a mid-life crisis, but rather are reassessing where they are versus where they want to be.  At this critical juncture, many often first default to looking for a new roadmap.  Indeed it is wise to read and learn about the journeys of others, mainly to gain courage and inspiration.  Ultimately, however, you need to do some soul-searching on your own-- dig into your past and make peace with it.  You need to understand and appreciate the bizarre series of events that transpired to get you to where you are today.  Then, you need to let go-- forgive the past and surrender to the unpredictable nature of what the future holds in store for all of us.

After my divorce, I delved deep into my past and went in search of answers about my family's complex history.  Once I pieced that puzzle together, I stupidly tried to zoom ahead, which is how I wound up calling off an engagement that never should have happened.  In the year that followed, I meditated every day and spent a great deal of time reading spiritual books, with my favorite being "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior."  Only after I truly accepted that there really is not much I can control in this world did the full picture come together in all its splendor.

So, don't waste your time looking for a roadmap that does not exist.   Instead, embrace the notion of navigating your own vessel through unchartered waters.  There will be storms, no doubt.  But there is a reason they say "smooth sailing does not make for skilled sailors."  Face each challenge building on the courage you have developed with each trial and tribulation you have endured thus far, and look ahead with and open mind, genuine curiosity and cautious optimism.    With time, you will truly appreciate that there is no road map.

Build your own path, and in the meantime enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Are You Trying To Negotiate With The Devil?

Some people just cannot be reasoned with, they simply will not budge.  The art of compromise is not part of their emotional tool box- so it's either their way or the highway.  When you hit this wall (and we all do at some point with toxic people) the question actually becomes quite simple: is it worth the fight or should you just give in and walk away?  Answering this question, however, is not so simple-- but here is some food for thought:

1. How well do you know your enemy?  If you are going to fight, you better know your opponent's weak points and strengths.  And you need to consider what do they have on you and what are they capable of doing?  Are they willing to borrow, beg and steal to fight to the bitter end?  If so, can you (and those around you) stomach that?

2.  What resources are at your disposal?  Is there even a higher power you can appeal to if the other person won't budge, and what are the transaction costs involved with that process?  A common phrase we use with clients contemplating litigation is that we all have principles worth fighting for-- but can you afford the fight?  Literally, before you go to war you have to have a war chest.

3. Is there nobility in quitting? There is a value to ending a battle, especially for the sake of restoring peace and sanity into your life, particularly when kids are involved.  Battles take a toll on you physically and emotionally, not to mention financially.  So do you really need to prove a point, or can you cut your losses with this toxic person and move on with your dignity intact?

There is a great book by Professor Mnookin "Bargaining with the Devil" that discusses the various factors one should consider in a cost-benefit analysis before launching WWIII, and Bill Eddy's books including "It's All Your Fault"  has wonderful tips for dealing with high conflict personalities, but at the end of the day, no one but you will be able to look deep inside your heart to determine whether you can live with yourself if you put down your sword and forfeit the fight.  Only with age and maturity have I learned the beauty in this simple truth: you are the one being irrational if you expect an irrational person to be reasonable.

Stop trying to negotiating with the devil.  Either fight or walk away, just own the choice in the interest of preserving your own sanity.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What Is "Ours" Versus "Yours" or "Mine"?

This is a question that plagues me every day-- either in my prenup consults or with those about to embark in the divorce process.  Explaining the law is easy, but getting couples to agree on what should be part of the marital pie is often not easy at all.

With a prenuptial agreement, couples can redefine upfront what will be considered separate versus marital during their marriage.  Some choose to waive a right to making any claims for alimony in the event of divorce, others prefer to set caps on the duration and/or amount.  To a detached person acting like a scribe, these may seem like straight-forward issues, but as I sit there talking it through with my clients the reality is there are a lot of complicated emotions that need to be flushed out well before each couple says "I do."

Throughout the years, I have come to understand that there is a wide range of attitudes out there about what people feel entitled to in a marriage.  Not everyone agrees that everything accumulated during a marriage through employment efforts and savvy investments should be "ours."  Particularly, those that are over 40 and/or entering a second marriage with assets are much more prone to want to protect their own nest eggs and minimize the risk of having someone else on their payroll.  I know it sounds harsh, but it is true.  Those willing to remarry later in life mainly seek a life companion, which is so amazingly uplifting and yet it begs the question: what are you going to build together?

On the flip side, for those that unfortunately face a divorce without a prenuptial agreement, there are a lot of unknowns that will need to be addressed and the reason for all the uncertainly is that fundamentally there are severe differences of opinion between estranged spouses as to what is fair and reasonable with respect to either a support award or division of assets.   It's just not easy for two opposing sides to agree on what is "ours" and how should we split it all?

Given everything that is at stake, before you get too ahead of yourself in planning a future together with someone, sit down with your significant other and ask yourselves some difficult questions, including what is going to be yours versus mine?  What do we want to build together?  And, do we want to put these agreements down on paper?  If there is some resistance to this notion simply ask "why is that?"  Also, be prepared to articulate your concerns and deal-breakers.  Understanding each other is the key to resolving conflicts, which are an inevitable part of married life.

Money talks are not easy, I know.  But if you want to live happily ever after, you have to be on the same page with your partner as to what it is that you are creating together versus "yours" or "mine."

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Are You Challenging Yourself Enough?

If you are feeling a bit bored, or complacent, and you are tired of the same old, same old then it is obvious you need to challenge yourself a bit more.  If you want to shake things up, here are 3 key areas to consider working on:

1. Professionally- what goals have you set recently?  What steps are you taking to achieve those goals?  Long after we have completed our studies and established our careers, we need to continue to find opportunities for learning and expanding our minds.  Thankfully there are plenty of great webinars or continuing education programs out there, and if you feel you need some personal assistance find a mentor or career coach that can give you an extra push in the right direction.

2. Personally- are your personal relationships bringing you joy and/or helping you grow emotionally?  If not, it's definitely time to try something different, and since you can't force others to change, focus on yourself.  Are your expectations too high of others?  Do you make a lot of assumptions?  Both of these tendencies can cause you major disappointment.  At the other end of the spectrum, maybe you are the one that is self-sabatoging?  Do you have some self-destructive tendencies or bad habits that you need to break?  Work on yourself-- only once you do that will you attract the right kind of people into your world.

3. Physically- when is the last time you felt sore after a good workout?  If you are tired of your routine, maybe splurge on a few sessions with a personal trainer.  If you think your diet needs some tweaking, go meet with a nutritionist.  Our bodies change over time, and we need to pay attention to their different needs.

The last 20 years as a retired athlete, I definitely continued to push myself professionally and personally, but I honestly failed to really test myself physically.  Don't get me wrong, I have maintained a healthy diet and exercised regularly, but for the last few years I have been craving some a change, and finally this month I took the plunge and did 2 things: (1) returned to yoga to gain back more flexibility and (2) got a personal trainer that is kicking my butt.  I will admit that I've been waking up sore just about every day, but you know what? It feels good.

They say "no pain, no gain."  It is indeed true-- so if you are tired of the status quo and want to implement some changes, I'm not going to lie, it is going to hurt a little-- or maybe a lot-- but work through the pain.  You will be so proud of yourself in the end, and who knows how many others you will inspire at the same time? But don't focus on the others-- just focus on challenging yourself to be the best you professionally, personally and physically!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Are You Making Some Bad Decisions?

Realizing something is wrong is half the battle, so cut yourself some slack.  If you don't feel like you are at your best, work through those feelings and identify the source of your stress so you can address it, otherwise things most likely are just going to get worse, and the more irritated you are the more likely you are to make some really bad decisions. Why?  Well think of it this way- if a car's alignment is off, the more you keep driving it the worse it will handle.  The same is true with humans.

When you run a diagnostic on yourself (something that usually works better when you talk it through with another individual) there are 8 areas of life that you want to take into account:

1. Finances- is your budget balanced? Cash flow issues are a huge source of stress, and to resolve them you either need to (1) tap into savings; (2) increase your income or (3) decrease your spending. Easier said than done, I know, but this is where consulting an expert might be incredibly beneficial.

2. Work- are you satisfied with what you are doing? Given that most of us spend 40 hours a week or more at work, it is important that we feel valued, and I do not just mean well compensated.  Are your efforts properly recognized?  Is your work environment friendly and comfortable?  If not, you have to speak up and advocate for some changes.

3. Partner- are you in sync with your life partner?  If not, what can you do to improve this key relationship?  If you don't have a life partner- are you okay with that or does it bother you?  Finding and keeping a healthy partnership is a huge commitment-- of both your time and effort.

4. Family-  are those in your family that you love doing okay?  Those of us that are part of the sandwich generation are going to have a particularly hard time balancing different needs between our aging parents and our young children.  Just remember, you cannot please everyone, so just do the best you can.

5. Health- are you taking good care of yourself?  For those of us conditioned as athletes to eat right, exercise and rest to keep the machine functioning properly, this comes as second nature, but the majority of you need to work at this-- seriously, you will be of no use to anyone, including yourself if you are ill.

6.  Appearance- are you satisfied with the way you and/or or your house look?  It is important to feel good about yourself and your home.  If you are not happy with yourself or your sanctuary, it will affect your overall outlook, and let's face being embarrassed or feeling insecure are not sexy qualities.

7. Spirituality- do you make time to connect with a higher power?  You don't necessarily have to go to church to connect with God.  Maybe you your thing is connecting with nature, or volunteering and connecting with those less fortunate.  The point is to have a healthy perspective, it is important to remember on a regular basis that the world does not revolve around us, and rather we are here as its humble servants during the limited time we have here on Earth.

8. Friends- have you built a good core network of people that share your values and interests?  Sadly, I see many that just focus on work and their nuclear family, and they have neglected to develop lasting friendships.  We are not meant to live in isolation, and connecting with others is an important part of the human experience.

If you find yourself making bad decisions, run through this list above and try to figure out what is bothering you the most.  You may need to rank these items in order of priority, and then set realistic goals by coming up with an action plan to address one issue at a time. And I mean it- one issue at a time-- you cannot tackle it all at once.

Just remember Rome was not built in one day, but you do need to hold yourself accountable. Reassess your progress on a regular basis, and if you need help (and I am sure that you will) that is what friends are for, and that is why I saved the best for last on my list, when really friends should be on top, for if there is one thing I have found to be true it is this: good friends are the key to avoiding those bad decisions-- and when that fails, well, they will at least rally to your rescue and later help you laugh about those momentary lapses of reason.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What's The Hardest Thing You Have Ever Done?

What is the hardest thing you have ever done?  If you can't narrow it down, think of your top 5.  Now, up to this point, here is what my list would look like:

1. Left home at age 14 for boarding school;
2. Gave up my beloved sport to focus on academics in college;
3. Married someone at 25 that my mom did not approve of;
4. Divorced that someone knowing I would have to hear "I told you so";
5. Left my firm job to create my own flexible schedule;
6. Raised a son for 10 years as a single parent;
7. Canceled a wedding;
8. Had to do a short-sale on my condo during the Great Recession; and
9. Searched for and connected with my dad after 38 years.

How do our lists compare?  You know what- it actually doesn't matter because this is not a contest.  The point I really want to emphasize is this-- there is not a single thing on that list that I regret doing. All were worthwhile learning experiences that made me who I am today, and if you look at your list ask yourself, isn't that true for you too?

Just as they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I firmly believe that we alone get to frame our reality.  You can see something as nerve-racking or exciting.  You can see it as difficult, or simply challenging.  Do you see the glass as half full or half empty?  It is your attitude that makes all the difference in the world.  You alone can choose to rise to the occasion or sit back wallowing in self pity.  Thankfully, very few of the people I work with opt for the latter approach, and as a result I am inspired on a daily basis by my divorce clients as they face some of the most trying times they have ever encountered.

So now the time has come for me to face my next biggest challenge in life: blending families.  From what many wise people have told me it is the hardest thing they ever had to tackle, and I can see why.  There are so many different moving pieces and different personalities with different perspectives.  We all have a distinct history, our own set of norms and deeply held core beliefs.  It is far from easy to have all these lives intertwine under one roof, and it is particularly tough when not everyone is sharing in the bride and groom's joy as the big changes continue to unfold.  But I think the key is to keep the lines of communication open and ensure that the two driving forces remain on the same page.

In the end, just know that challenges will continue to come up in life, and the one key thing that got me through all of mine is that I did not have to face any of them alone.  The other saving grace for me is faith.  If you don't have faith in a higher power, then at least have faith in the overall goodness of humanity.  You cannot lose hope when faced with a major obstacle-- instead you need to find an ally, preferably one with some dynamite (not literally, but rather figuratively) to help you blast through what may seem, but probably really isn't, a brick wall.  Later, you will save some of those remnants as a badge on honor, of that I have no doubt.      

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What Is Your Achilles Heel?

We all have a weak spot, that is what makes us human.  Sometimes we see them clearly, but other times we may be blinded by our emotions, which is when we must accept help from others to face those fears we cannot face alone.  Here are the 4 most common ones I see while helping people through a divorce:

1. Money- A lot of people worry about money, either they are not good money managers or maybe they are and yet they live in fear of not having enough.  No matter what your issue is with money, the point is you have to face it head on, and if you need help balancing a budget or finding the right number that will help you feel safe, then get the advice of a financial planner.  Don't just ignore the issue and hope it goes away, that simply doesn't work.

2. Time- Many people complain about not having enough time to do everything they need to do, but perhaps this is really an issue about not making the right choices.  We each have to learn to balance various interests and not over-commit ourselves.  It is all about identifying priorities and sticking to them.  Talk to a life coach if time management is truly overwhelming for you, and try to embrace the word "no" a little more into your vocabulary.

3. Relationships- Establishing new ties and re-negotiating old ones is a work in progress for everyone.  We all have to re-assess our commitments to family and friends whenever there is a change to the status quo.  Births, marriages, deaths and divorce all disrupt our family structures, and navigating through the sea of emotions alone is simply not humanly possible-- this is when you need the support of a neutral friend or expert to let you vent, problem-solve and help you mourn the losses and appreciate the gains that always accompany a major change to the family unit.

4. Kids- This is definitely a tough one for any parent-- we all love our kids and want to keep them safe and happy, but at the same time we cannot allow ourselves to go into financial ruin to provide them with everything their hearts desire.  If we are going raise responsible citizens, then we have to model for them the behaviors that will be expected of them as adults and encourage those traits in them at an early age--  especially gratitude, humility and respect for others because without these qualities, there is no doubt they will struggle in all future relationships outside the home.

Before it is too late and you get hit with a fatal blow from life, ask yourself what is your weak spot? Whatever it is, don't run from it, but instead look at this challenge as an opportunity to improve and become stronger.  And remember, no one expects you to do this alone.