Finding purpose. Showing presence. Making progress. When done well, they all look easy. Sometimes so easy that people attribute them only to talent or pure luck. What very few see are the hours, days or years of preparation, the persistence and constant search for meaning and improvement, and the courage to take a leap. It sounds like hard work, doesn’t it? But work that can make a difference.
…exist. This statement struck me when I heard it on a conference call this week. It’s so simple and powerful that it stayed with me since then. I keep on coming back to it in various situations and the more I think about it, the more I’m amazed by its universal relevance.
Communication is what makes us human. It’s not only the sheer existence of some sort of communication that matters. It’s the what (content), the how (way), the when (timing) of our messages that shape human connections. Every piece of communication has the potential to bring us closer to a desired state through building trust, forming perceptions or changing opinions. Or to allow us to avoid misunderstandings or resolve conflicts.
The questions we ask, the answer we give, the time and effort we put into creating our communication – they all influence the outcome of what we do and how we are perceived more than we sometimes imagine. Overthinking each and every word or sentence we say is not the way to go, but we shouldn’t underestimate their importance either. Everyhing we communicate is part of a puzzle, of our life puzzle. You choose how your puzzle will look like. Choose wisely.
I recently moderated a series of enablement sessions for fellow marketers around a topic that I love. A participant in one of the sessions introduced himself with the following sentence: “I’m (name) and I’m passional about doing cool stuff that matters.” It was the most simple, unspecific, yet impactful introduction on that day and it stayed with me in the following weeks. Don’t we all want to do cool things that matter? However, we often feel that the things we do don’t matter (enough) or we don’t consider them cool. Maybe they deserve to be re-evaluated. And we deserve a second look to define what really matters to us. Wouldn’t that help us find more meaning and a higher sense of accomplishment? I don’t know. But it’s probably worth trying. After all, being someone who does cool stuff that matters sounds really cool.
It’s cozy to be in the cocoon of a self-made narrative that leaves little room for change or interpretation, isn’t it? Sometimes it does help to be shielded from reality for a short period of time. And it’s so tempting to stay there, stuck in a state of perpetual pseudo happiness or constant self-pity. The inherent vice of staying in this condition longer, though, is that it robs you of the chance to find out and do what matters to you and the rest of the world. Imagine what a tremendous lost opportunity that would be. Maybe this will help you take a small step – a word or a simple gesture – in shaping your true story. Or maybe it will be the stranger or friend you’ll see when you dare to peek out of your cocoon. It will be worth it.
Intense experiences – positive or negative – can make you see your situation, priorities, and seeming contentment differently. It’s like seeing clearly after cleaning a steamed up window. That’s when a simple question materializes: “what’s next?“. Thinking and doing something about it can be tedious and exhausting. Looking back usually doesn’t help – what used to make us happy (a relationship of any kind, a job or personal interests) might not be the same anymore, and sometimes it becomes obvious that holding on to it longer is detrimental to everyone involved. Looking ahead is challenging. It’s tiring to seek change, persevere, and work on new ways to fulfill your potential, be happy and make others happy. Especially if you have done it quite a few times. But it’s the only possible way to move on staying true to your purpose as a human being.
It can be hard to imagine what could come next. So hard that you feel stuck and miserable. And yet, the sparkle will be there or has even been there already in the form of a kind gesture, inspiring conversation or someone, known or unknown, who is just one word away. I admit that I hesitate to utter the word today even though I know I probably should. What if I say the wrong thing or say it at the wrong time? Would that matter? I still don’t know what my next opportunity to be happy and spread happiness will be, but I started building a bridge to it. Do you know what it will be for you?
Handshaking in Ghana is special. So are the smiles you receive at every turn. I had a lot of both during my short stay in Accra. 72 spectacular hours filled with so many, so diverse, so moving experiences felt like a month or a year of happiness. A walk to a beach that uncovered hundreds of human stories and ended up being different than expected. Remarks and conversations that seemed random, and were at the same time heart-warming and relevant. Sharing time and experiences with an open heart has rarely felt so easy and gratifying.
Accra, thank you for a lesson in humanness and a reminder to cherish the moment. Now let me try to spread it as much as I can.
A pleasant greeting. An unexpected conversation. A group fitness class or a business meeting.
Each of these can serve as a good distraction when the only thing you want at a certain moment is a response, or, more precisely, the response you wish for. You recollect the last communication that took place and questions start crossing your mind at lightning speed. Why? What if? How? When? Who else?
If getting a response takes a little longer, you try harder to focus on the distractions. Another greeting. The next meeting. A second fitness class. The questions become even more annoying, but after some time their power starts to wane. Suddenly, what felt as a distraction before regains its rightful role and gets the deserved attention. The non-existent response is almost forgotten. And then, a week later or in the following year, when the response comes, it simply doesn’t matter… It has become a distraction.
Layered clothing (“Zwiebelschalenprinzip“) was one of the expressions that caught my attention in my first years in Germany. I knew what it meant and had practiced it myself. What amazed me, though, was how often it was used. I remember wondering why it was so popular… And here I am using it myself 🙂
A statement I made in a pleasant conversation today made me think about layers. Not in the context of clothing, but related to human interactions. Do you know the feeling of saying something about yourself and realizing immediately after that how misleading it can be? That’s exactly what happened to me. Perplexed, I kept on thinking why it was so challenging for me to highlight the right layer in the right context… such a pity since I had a compelling story on my mind that I wasn’t able to tell!
We all possess different layers of values, ideas, and opinions shaped by our upbringing, culture, and experiences. Mixing the layers or presenting them without the necessary framework of reference can confuse the person we talk with, and also ourselves. Now that I think about it, this is a good reason for the popularity of the layered concept… The shell layer protects us, but is rarely what defines us. The inner layer is, by contrast, where we are vulnerable the most. What, when, and how we share is key. Relevant stories told in an engaging way make it easier to bridge layers and help others better relate to what we communicate.
I’ll focus on telling my story next time. And every time.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
As I was cleaning out my e-mail inbox, going through pictures and documents, and reflecting on the last 12 months, I challenged myself to summarize my 2015 in a few words. It has been an eventful year and it took me a while to find the best description for it. The answer turned out to be simple: my 2015 was a year of change and courage. Isn’t every year about change and courage?, you may rightfully ask. And it is indeed. But the last 12 months offered so many lessons on transformation and overcoming fears that deserved the label “a year of change and courage”. It was difficult and felt unmanageable at times, sad and almost unbearable. At the same time it also had a myriad of exciting, even exhilarating moments, and many rewarding occasions.
Setbacks and difficulties were present throughout the year, so were many new, enriching experiences. I discovered mindfulness and a number of ways to make more meaningful contributions, and was surrounded by incredibly kind, passionate, and diverse people.
I’m very grateful for the opportunities to learn and grow in 2015 and I’m happy that I remained true to myself and could leave doubts and confusion behind. Integrity and courage have always been important to me. 2015 showed me that they matter to me even more than before. But integrity and courage, just like everything else I described so far, mean nothing without people. And it’s the human connections that make every year valuable and gratifying.
The people I met and spent time with in the last 12 months helped me overcome difficulties, inspired me to see and experience life from different angles, and brought about joy and happiness along the way. My heartfelt thanks to all of you who were part of my 2015! I hope it was a year of courage for all of you too. Let’s make 2016 count as such again 🙂 As for me, I would like to be able to add writing and mindfulness to the description of next year. What about you? What would you like to do more of in the next 12 months?
Happy New Year!