Diania Merriam discusses accountability, shifting perspectives, and community. She has a great perspective on building community and life with balance.
Diania's Money Story
At an early point in Diania's life, she aspired to be the highest-paid female CEO. Since then, she has realized this is no longer her goal. It was a reflection of her belief that status was critically important.
You just kinda feel like you'll figure it out later, like ‘Oh, I'm just getting started in my career. One day I'm going to make a ton of money and be the highest-paid female CEO and I'm not going to have to worry about all this stuff!' Right?! And so, I think that is kind of what put me into a position of getting myself into debt and not really paying attention to where my dollars were going.
In her 20s, she admits to somewhat mindless financial behavior. She felt that she would be able to figure out her finances later when she was earning more money. That attitude led to around $30,000 of debt in her late 20s.
Half of her debt was student loans. However, she had full scholarships to school, so she really didn't need to take out any student loans. She took out the loans because that is the trajectory that people expect. Although the money helped to fund a more comfortable student lifestyle, it wasn't really necessary.
The other half of her debt was credit card debt. She didn't have the mindset that debt was a bad thing because everyone in her life had debt.
In her mid-20s, she joined an accountability group. A friend of Diania's started the ‘Reputable Women's Development Club.' The group met once a month to review goals and get back to the “why” of those goals. Members would make an action plan for the upcoming month and report back on the goals for their next meeting.
Many of these women had similar goals to Diania's. Fitness, getting out of debt, and advancing in their careers were common within the group.
One of the ladies in the group stumbled across Mr. Money Mustache. She sent out the article about debt being an emergency to the group. Diania immediately devoured the entire blog and saw her mindset shift dramatically. Check out that article here.
I think that shift in mindset is what enabled me to change my habits and look at, not just money, but my resources in general in a different way. So the resources of time, your energy, your community. You know, we talk so much about money, but that's just one resource that we want to be careful in managing. You know, I think you've got to look at it as the whole picture.
Other resources such as time and community have their own values.
The group held each other accountable by systematically documenting what each member said they wanted to do. To start, each stated five clear goals. At each meeting, they outlined three action steps that would get them closer to their goal. At the next meeting, they would report back to the group about what worked and what pivots needed to happen.
Documenting and then reporting helped keep accountability due to having to speak to what you said you were going to do.
Being around a group of encouraging women allowed Diania to pursue her goals with a support group of people attempting to achieve their own dreams.
Over the course of a year, the club worked together towards goals. The group members had a varied skill set that they used to help each other out. As everyone's lives changed, the group of ten disbanded slowly.
Diania says that the best part about the group is to look back on her ambitions. Her goal was to get out of $30,000 in debt and save $10,000. She was able to do it. It serves as a reminder that she has done hard things in the past and that she is able to do hard things in the future.
Her goal of being the highest-paid female CEO is no longer important to Diania. The importance of status, which fueled that goal, was the immaturity of perspective, what seemed important as a teenager. Now her goals have shifted to be relationship-based, especially since learning about FIRE and starting on the path to Financial Independence.
Her goals now are peace of mind, time, space, and relationships.
Diania works in the field of brand extensions. She works out contracts between manufacturers and brands. Generally, the brand allows a manufacturer to use their name in exchange for a royalty. However, the negotiation table between the two can be challenging to navigate. Diania is able to successfully build partnerships between brands and manufacturers. She is really great at her job and her employer values her accordingly.
With respect at work, comes more responsibility. After a few years of working for this company, she found herself working at the expense of everything else. She thought that working the career ladder would bring her happiness but neglecting her health and relationships did not lead to happiness.
When she turned 30, she realized that something had to change. She felt that she had put all of her eggs into the career basket but was unsatisfied in other areas of her life. The company was rewarding her monetarily for the business she brought in, but she did not have time or freedom. After some reflection, she wanted to open up more time in her life to become a more well-rounded person.
What is better than money? In this instance, I didn't feel like I needed more money, I felt like I needed more time and freedom. Again, when you think about resourcefulness and what resources that you have at your disposal, I felt like I needed to open up a little bit more space in my life. And to focus on relationships, to focus on my health, to be, I guess, a more well-rounded person.
With that, she found an opportunity to go to her employer. Instead of asking for a raise after a productive year of work, she asked for some unconventional requests. She asked to move to Cinncinatti for remote work and two months off (unpaid) to walk the Camino in Spain.
No one else in her company had ever asked for anything like this. Sabbaticals were unheard of because it is a fast-paced industry. However, she had been there for five years and proven her value to the company. Plus, she knew if they said no–she was prepared to do it anyway; even though she enjoyed the job. Cleaning up her financial life allowed her to be confident in her request to leave.
Life With Balance
After her employer agreed to her unconventional request, she took off to walk the Camino. It was a pivotal experience that helped to transform her identity. Before the Camino, her identity was very tied up with work. However, no one asked her about her work on the walk. Without the stress of daily life and work, she was able to tap into a deeper level of humanity that seemed clouded before.
She started to carry extra water to pass out to others. The simple way of life allowed her to tap into the way she thinks as a person without the pressure of regular life. For Diania, it was important to have this experience.
Now, her work identity and Camino trailblazer identity can coexist comfortably. She still produces quality work, but her mindset has shifted. She no longer puts so much pressure on herself when it comes to work stress. Although her employer views her performance the same, she is enjoying it much more.
Whether on the Camino, in an accountability group, or just in the neighborhood, it is clear that Diania values community.
Convenience is the ultimate friendship builder.
In New York, her apartment building had 42 units. She made it a point to invite people over for dinner. Hosting dinner parties, sharing the internet, and helping out in other ways became a part of the building culture.
In Cincinnati, she shares her lawnmower with the neighbor. Plus, the neighbor keeps their chickens in her yard. Simply finding ways to help each other can go a long way.
If you want to share tools and services with your neighbor, then be helpful. Always extend the olive branch first through a dinner or other kindness. You can't just walk up to someone and ask to borrow their lawnmower. It needs to be more organic. When you have a spirit of sharing, you can make it a point to share which sets up a symbiotic dynamic.
Currently, Diania is working on hosting EconoMe. This will be an event that explores the new American dream with a series of speakers.
It is a one-day event held at the University of Cincinnati. In the morning and afternoon, there will be talks with a break in between. Plus, a showing of Playing with FIRE. After the talks, there will be a party downtown.
For Diania, this is a way to spread the message of FIRE. She stumbled across the movement by chance. She wants to help make this content more accessible for others that need it. Since blogs and podcasts seemed to have the information covered, she wanted to add a new twist that will allow people to interact with this content in a different way.
The EconoMe Conference will be held on March 7th, 2020. There is room for 700 people at EconoMe. If you are interested in checking it out, then head to the EconoMe Conference page. You'll be able to find out more about the event there. You can also find out more through the Facebook page @economeconference or the Facebook group, Fueling the FIRE. Early bird ticket sales run through the end of October, so grab your ticket today.
The Hot Seat
Favorite Blog, Podcast, or Book: Mr. Money Mustache
An Inflection Point: A moment on the Camino that showed her how life can turn on a dime. “The Camino strips you of your humor, and then hands it back to you.”
She had been sleeping on a church floor but couldn't sleep so she got up to start walking.
When she reached the next town there was only one light on. The house with the light was setting up breakfast for other pilgrims so she asked to join. The man showed her where to sit down and asked her where she was from. She said the US, he just looked confused and said he didn't know where that was.
After a minute she caught on that it was a joke which snapped her right out of her bad mood. It shows that even when things feel really bad right now, things could change in a moment.
Favorite Life Hack: She has a roommate (AKA her gay husband). He helps her house hack, watches her dog, and helped her find her color–blue.
Biggest Financial Mistake: A piece of her credit card debt. She strung it along for so long because she valued liquidity over being debt-free. For many years she didn't see debt as a problem and always thought of savings as something she would do later. That absence of a goal did not motivate her to save for the future. FI is a more tangible goal in the intermediate future that has encouraged her to save.
The advice you would give your younger self: Let your curiosity be bigger than your fear.
New to FI? Be sure to check out Episode 100: Welcome To The FI Community!