Do you know these stressful days when you prefer limiting your conversations and simply concentrating on getting things done? Maybe it’s because I am somewhat of an introvert and happen to work with many people (which I enjoy), I tend to have times when I need my own time and space.
Last Thursday was one of these days. I had a number of in-person and virtual meetings, all of them were well prepared and I felt fine about them. There was one appointment, however, that I would have preferred to postpone. It was an early lunch with a former participant of my dance fitness class. She joined the very first class I taught and has been a loyal student ever since. Even though she was not into sports she trusted me as an instructor and turned into an avid Zumba® fan, enjoying the music and the moves. It was wonderful to see her transformation and how she radiated joy while doing sports. Unfortunately health issues had prevented her from attending the class for more than 6 months. I kept in touch sending get well soon messages and was glad to hear she was recovering and was back to work.
After a quick e-mail exchange a few weeks ago the idea for a joint lunch came up. We had hardly spoken more than a few minutes before or after class. At that time it seemed to me that we had very little in common (including the fact that she usually has lunch much earlier than I do), but I decided to discard all doubts and give it a try. After all, I believe in human connections across differences of any kind. It’s such a pity our lunch happened to be on a day I felt I needed time for myself. I resisted the urge to cancel our appointment, and I am so happy I did!
Our conversation started awkwardly with the typical small talk questions – the class, work, weather (note that neither of us is a master of small talks). That’s when I thought this lunch was not a good idea. Things changed in the course of our chat and our appointment ended over a cup of coffee exchanging personal thoughts and ideas. An inspiring and sincere human connection was created in the course of a lunch break amidst all superficiality and hypocrisy we are often surrounded with. It was an eye-opening experience and what made it possible was our openness, trust, and willingness to embrace our vulnerability. I recognize it’s probably not possible or desirable to have and show all of these at all times and circumstances, but it’s worth trying. By the way, I have another early lunch scheduled and look forward to it!
This is my 101st blog post. Each and every of the first 100 posts here played an important role in shaping my thoughts and views. What better way to celebrate this fact than to write about what writing means to me and to participate in the writing contest How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life hosted by Positive Writer.
My writing journey started in my teenage years when I discovered it as a means of expressing my emotions. It was my way to process and channel what and how I felt. That’s when my learning experience through writing started. Since then it has taught me about (being) myself, about fear and courage, about life. It helped me see more clearly in a confusing world, set aside misconceptions, and build bridges. The latter has been one of the most valuable aspects of writing to me… that it can serve as a basis for building human connections. After all, aren’t genuine human connections what we miss and need most?
It’s hard to describe how nervous and apprehensive I was when I started this blog. I wanted to express myself in my own voice. I wanted to write about topics and experiences that move me and to invite others to be part of them. Far from perfect as my posts are, there is one thing they have in common and that influenced my life positively. It’s the commitment to authenticity and learning that manifested itself in every post. And I did learn. A lot. I learned about home, change, listening and many other important aspects of life. I got to know myself and others better. I realized that writing is not only a way of expressing myself through words, it offers many other opportunities to see things from a different perspective, and reach new levels of understanding and engagement. Isn’t it wonderful to get to know another point of view and exchange thoughts based on a number of words put together in a blog post?
If I were to point out another learning aspect of these carefully thought-through and written posts, it would be the fact that it’s worth it. It was worth every word, every minute and every thought I spent for each and every blog post. In fact, it’s always worth doing something we truly believe in no matter how difficult it can be to start and how much effort it requires to continue. If you still doubt, stop and do the first or next step today. That’s when the magic (of writing) starts.
I’m one of those people who are not particularly fond of celebrating their own birthday. I love preparing and sharing birthdays of family, friends, colleagues, but I often find it challenging to spend my own birthday (un)reasonably and happily. After all, it seems just another day of our life, doesn’t it? And if someone should celebrate, it should be the parents. That’s what I thought. There were quite a few years in which what I wanted most on my birthday was to spend it on my own just like any other day. Social pressure didn’t let me do quite that, but I was successfully minimizing the widely accepted need to celebrate.
In the course of the years it became clear to me how selfish it is not to let other people share my birthday and bring in a piece of happiness into it, be it in the form of good wishes, a joke or a present. I love doing that for other people, so why wouldn’t I let them play a role in my birthday?
This year I shared my birthday at work and in the classes I teach in my spare time. And you know what, it actually felt good to see so many smiles and so much gratefulness for having shared something personal, something genuine. Returning looks and comments didn’t feel like a burden, just the opposite – it was a good way to connect on a human level and continue building bridges replacing prejudice or misconception.
What remains most valuable to me on this day are the people close to my heart who touched me with their wonderful words, good wishes, and thoughtfulness. To all of you…
… who make this day and so many more unforgettable;
… who make me smile, laugh and cry for joy;
… who share genuinely and listen carefully
please know that you make this often ambivalent and challenging journey meaningful and remarkable. I’m deeply grateful for you and I hope I can give back to you at least as much as you give me. Today it’s your day as much as it’s mine. Thank you!
“Tomorrow lurks in us, the latency to be all that was not achieved before.”
I came across this quote while reading the news during my daily commute this week. The train drivers in Germany are on strike (again!), so I was standing in a packed train early in the morning mulling over ambition. It sounds absurd, I know, but isn’t life full of absurd stories and circumstances?
Ambition is something I’ve been thinking a lot in the last year. The strong desire for advancement or activity has always played an important role in my life. In fact, I wouldn’t have been where I am and wouldn’t have had the chance to do what I do, hadn’t that been the case. There is something about ambition, though, that can make it a boon and/or a burden. When paired with impatience, as it often happens to me, it can become unbearable. Linked with persistence and discipline, as it often happens to me, it can turn into a powerful way to achieve goals. So where and when does ambition need to start and stop? There is no easy answer to this question, but it’s important to ask it if you have difficulties dealing with the presence or absence of ambition.
You can argue that reflecting on such questions in a full train early in the morning is not the best place and time to do that. Probably it was my ambition again that made me be active, take advantage of the time and think about tomorrow’s possibilities. Where has ambition taken you?
You’ve probably read this phrase about fear in one form or another. The last time I came across it was in a short Fast Company article about performance under pressure. While I’m far from the extreme circumstances outlined in the article, it reminded me that we all face fear of failure. It can take the form of a serious doubt, a horrible menace or a simple warning. It can be discouraging or even intimidating. And it can make us wonder how on earth we would possibly be able to handle it? At this moment a panic attack is probably lurking around the corner.
A colleague of mine who was under a lot of pressure to find a new job earlier this year asked me how I dealt with the fear of failure. My response was plain: what helps me most is visualizing milestones of my path that I considered successful and gratifying. These achievements I usually don’t think of are a reliable source of support when fear seems to take over. They slightly change my perspective, bring me back to a state in which I can better assess the situation at hand and look for ways to deal with it more reasonably. This is by no means a recipe and doesn’t always work perfectly, but is definitely a good starting point for me. My colleague found a new, exciting job that she enjoys. She is not fear-less, but more determined to face fear and do it anyway.
It can be challenging to deal with fear at times (or every time). It’s not fear, it’s our reaction to it that defines us to a certain extent. Overcoming fear has been one of the most important experiences that has played a role in shaping my personality. Sometimes I wish the fear of failure would have been less present in my past, that I would have had an easier, more straightforward life. Had this been the case, would I have become the person I’m now? Most probably not. What is certain, though, is that embracing fear and acting despite its presence is not an easy path, but one worth going.
When was the last time you tried to be someone else to fulfill expectations and meet needs of people around you?
Different situations and surroundings often require a particular behavior or a distinct way of handling things. This might be determined by the duties involved, the attitude expected or the impression you would like to leave. But how do you ensure you remain true to yourself? And do you even need to remain true to yourself? It’s interesting to experience people in different roles, a fact that sometimes makes it difficult to figure out who they really are and what they stand for.
I’ve recently started a career coaching that shed light on this topic for me. Delving into my values and goals through different techniques seemed dreadful at first, but it turned out an eye-opening and rewarding experience. An experience that thought me a few lessons, the three major ones so far are:
These sound so simple and obvious. However, complexities and dependencies in today’s ever-changing world can prevent you from seeing the seemingly obvious – the obvious you and what you would like (or rather what you need) to stand for and strive for.
Coaching has helped me re-discover this essence. It has also been reminder to always keep this essence central to everything I do. To me, remaining true to yourself equals being authentic and having a high level of integrity. Since the latter two play a key role in my value system, remaining true to myself is not optional, but necessary. If authenticity and integrity are important to you too, chances are you share the unbearable lightness of being yourself.
It’s been a week since the 2015 Stückemarkt theater festival in Heidelberg ended. The impressions, however, haven’t faded one bit.
Sand pouring down from plastic bags. A hen in the hands of a young woman with a face mask. A hysteric storyteller exposing a taboo into the spotlight. Three randomly captured impressions, you might think. But they are much more than that and have much more in common than you think. They were all about Mexico, theater, dedication to making a difference. More importantly, they conveyed the necessity to expose and handle injustice and pain through theater-making in a dignified manner. As brutality unfolded on stage, we were all facing important human questions pertinent to all of us. Questions that our (often convenient) daily routine might have put aside.
Words are powerful and I always choose them carefully to describe impressions. But this time I feel unable to find the right words to get across the feelings and essential questions that I had the honor to experience and will cherish in the years to come. So let me share an interview with Ángel Hernández Arreola, one of the Mexican theater makers, who will tell you more about the festival and his incredibly important work.
This year’s theater festival was extraordinary. The impeccable organization; the opportunity to see excellent works from other theaters across the German-speaking world; the diversity of the authors’ competition. They all contributed to making these 10 days unforgettable. What really made a difference, however, was the opportunity to experience Mexico, this year’s country in focus, through its various theater facets. The diversity of Mexican theater as well as the important role it can play in the Mexican society were eye-opening. The talent, honesty, authenticity, dignity, dedication, and courage of all present Mexican artists were impressive. Impressions and inspiration that will remain with me for a long time.
I haven’t been here for a very long time. Since my New Year’s post, to be precise. It was the lack of time or energy, major changes, and worries that prevented me from being present in this space. The last months have been tough for many reasons. If I have to be very open to you, I was physically and mentally tired. The many drafts have been patiently waiting for me to polish and publish them. I feel guilty for not making them shine, but the fatigue and other (perceived) deterrents have been stronger.
Surrounded by hustle and bustle, I had yet another last-minute, important task to complete yesterday night. I turned on some music, sat on the floor and started working on a flip chart with sticky notes. While writing an item on a light blue piece of paper, I heard a known melody “there’s nothing you can do… lucky you”. One of my favorite songs by The National.
I had it in the playlist three times and when the third one ended, I played it again, and again, and again. I love the atmosphere it creates and the journey it takes you on. For some reason, the “lucky you” part stayed with me for quite some time. Indeed, lucky me… for the privilege to have wonderful people around me in challenging times, for the persistence to pursue meaning and knowledge, for having the chance to come back here and to other places I love. I’m happy to be back. I hope you have plenty of reasons to consider yourself lucky too. In fact, I’m sure you do.