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36 and all is good

19 May

I have always had a weird fascination, obsession and relationship with my birthdays. As a child, I was known to throw Hollywood-like tantrums and turn myself into a total a**hole on my special day (there once even was a bloody nose). As an adult, I have become more and more drawn to reviewing “my life to date”, checking in with my 30, 31, 32… old self. Today is the eve of my 36th birthday and I am again doing the same thing. It really is my actual New Years Eve.

I started 2017 with the ambition to make it my Year of Happiness. And I have to say I am in a very good place right now. Almost every aspect of my life today is different from what it was a year ago – I have made some important changes and so far they have all turned out to be good’uns. Some of them were absolutely overdue, but it obviously took me to turn 35 to realise that some things weren’t quite right.

36, to me, is a fabulous age. Professionally and personally speaking it’s a wonderful time. Still young but not quite old yet. Experienced but still fresh. And very different from what I thought, as a younger person, 36 would be like.

When my mum turned 36, I was about to turn 7 and my brother 13, a teenager! My parents were full-on adults, with a big house, life insurances, grown-up clothes, liqueur, attitudes and behaviour and things pretty much set in their ways. At least that’s what it seemed like to me. Of course there was still a big gap between them and my grand parents, but I knew what adult meant.

Now I am about to turn 36 and my concept of what being an adult means has changed a lot. Some things are a lot easier, more accessible, more possible, more casual, more light-hearted and definitely more fun! I love my independence, I am enormously happy about not having debt hanging over me – not something I would have ever imagined as an indicator of happiness. I have been very fortunate to chose and enjoy a pretty international, versatile and interesting lifestyle and career so far. And if I wanted to, there would be even more party in my life. Friends have become my extended family and that feels awesome.

But then, there are also things that are so much harder, so much more complicated than I would have ever imagined. I am not only speaking for myself here, but also for others. Being an over-30 single, against your will, while everybody else is getting married, can be super tough. Sickening even. Being an over-30 childless person, against your will, while everybody else is having children, can suck the life out of you. Can hurt so much. Can turn you into a monster you never wanted to become. Can even make you hate your dearest friends. While theoretically and statistically both (love and babies) can happen very suddenly, this can be nasty territory. And I would have never ever imagined for it to be like that.

Then there is work and the never-ending quest of your true self. Of the unfolding of all the potential qualities that lie within your heart, soul and your ability to turn them into a meaningful CV. If anybody had told me how unnerving it can be to constantly having to review my professional self, I would have become a butcher. Seriously. As much as I love being a multi-skilled and versatile flamingo-dragon-lion-owl, I sometimes just want to be a mouse. So I know that my enemy looks like a cat and that my friend is a fur ball. No more questions asked.

Then there is family…. Again, as a child, I knew things weren’t always perfect in the parents-grandparents matrix, but I had no idea just how complex this multi-generational game is. Just as we think we are leaving some worries behind and are entering the carefree adult zone, we start actively worrying about our parents. Their health, their happiness and sometimes even their finances. Suddenly there are all these rules, expectations and sometimes even reproaches and the people who once were our rocks and our safety nets become fragile and expect us to suddenly become their rocks and nets. And if we happen to have children of our own, this adds a whole new level of madness. What happened to those sunny afternoons with coffee, lemonade and strawberry cake?

Then there is us with ourselves. I am pretty cool with myself but I am nowhere as “finished” as I thought I would be at this age. That’s probably not a bad thing but it’s a bit surprising. There are definitely some routines and hard-wired quirks that won’t change much anymore but I have to admit that I constantly keep surprising myself. There are things I am suddenly capable of that I was too scared off only last year and things I stop being capable of that were second nature just last week. I think I like this mix of solid & flexible – there are days when I am happy about having a strong foundation and 35 years of experience under my belt that make for a solid framework I can rely on and there are days when I am happy about being flexible enough (yes, also physically speaking, thank you very much and yes I do Yoga regularly!) to keep changing, adapting, improving where I want to and to develop new interests, skills and discover new worlds. And who knows, perhaps one day I will be able to do my hair properly, to be able to walk without getting lost all the time, to put on fake eye-lashes and to save some money. There are still a few years for all that….

6 years ago, “30 rocks” was definitely right. Today I happily shout: “36 rules”!

Picture credit: Pixabay via pexels.com

Do something for your Future Self

9 Mar

One of my favourite podcasts is Happier with Gretchen Rubin. In one of her recent episodes she and her sister (the co-host of the show) talked about “Doing something for your Future Self” and I have been thinking about this a lot recently. While I am a big fan of actually living a fully engaged life in the here and now (which can be quite a challenge), spending some time today on my Tomorrow Self is a very appealing thought. Especially when the day to day is a bit boring and dull, investing into your future can be a great boost. Because even if you are in a position where you can put money away into a savings account or a private pension fund (doing big grown up future stuff), thinking about The Future and all its uncertainties can be daunting and scary because we tend to think in bigger proportions and feel that small steps won’t make a difference. But that’s not quite right. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring – which is probably a good thing – so breaking the future down into comprehensible and accessible chunks takes some of the scariness away and actually adds some fun.

Investing into your future can already start by taking a shower in the evening so that Tomorrow You can stay in bed 20 minutes longer, getting a bit more rest. Or preparing tomorrow’s lunch and packing the work bag (and of course also the gym bag that we all take to work every day…) the night before so that your morning isn’t too frantic. These things can be mundane chores or small presents we chose to give to our Tomorrow Selves (Tomorrow’s Elves?!). Or when you know you have a friend coming around for dinner on the weekend. Spending just 20 minutes each day during the week to clean the flat, to prepare a playlist, take some time to buy a really nice bottle of wine, to finally get those deco things you’ve been meaning to get out from the storage box underneath your bed or to generally think of ways to make that evening even more special can be a wonderful way to 1) get the most out of your overall positive anticipation vibes and release some fine Dopamin (result = less chocolate needed) 2) really make the evening very special. Your Future Self will love you for that!

I find the idea of my Future Self also helpful when I am about to take a decision that I am not fully convinced about, that I know is less than ideal or even as a form of external accountability. How will Tomorrow’s Fabienne think or feel about that? And yes, I have gone for that evening run that I couldn’t initially muster up the energy for because I wanted Tomorrow’s Fabienne to wake up with that nice pull on her muscles and a smug smile on her face, knowing she went for that run the night before. And yes I have also had that forth glass of wine, deciding that Tomorrow’s Fabienne will just somehow have to deal with it!

So, what can you do today for your Tomorrow Self? (or Weekend Self…or A Month From Now Self…?)

Picture credit: Kaboompics via pexels.com

2017 – My Year of Happiness

22 Jan

Disclaimer: I have not read Alex Lemon’s book “Happy”as the picture might suggest…

….but I have decided that 2017 is my year of happiness. It already is and I have every intention to continue on the same track – not that previous years weren’t also happy and not that I intend to stop on 31.12.2017, but I want to live this year with a special attention to happiness. Because happiness takes attention. Even when things are easy, everything is in flow and happiness is all around, it can go unnoticed. And especially when things aren’t easy, light and wonderful, it takes effort to get back to a state of happiness. Which is where practice comes in handy.

I am a firm believer that the only instance in my life that determines whether or not I am happy is myself. Other people or things can’t make me happy – it’s all up to me (and mostly what goes on inside my head). That comes with great possibility and also with great responsibility. But I would be plain crazy if I was to shy away from that, because, well, it’s about me and my life. And I would always chose being happy over being unhappy. Of course there are days or periods that are neutral, sad, stressed or whatever, but every day still holds the potential to create at least one happy moment. And especially when long-term happiness goals are hard to grasp, specify, visualise or even understand, the best thing to do is to make sure that most steps in our day-to-day are good steps. Because these steps will, one by one, lead us in the right direction.

Do I have an expectation about what life will or should look like on 31.12.2017? No. There is no “This is how I am going to measure the success of this”. Success is the process itself.

So what does this mean now? Well, I have made the decision to pay more attention to happiness, which was the very important first step. And the moment I push this blog post online it will be on record, serve as a reminder and I can be held accountable, by myself and others.

On the subject of accountability: For a while now, I have been thinking of creating a group that’s all about setting and sticking to goals – like Weight Watchers or AA – and I have gone ahead and set one up – see here. The first meeting is next week and if you happen to live in Berlin and this is a subject that is of interest to you – come and join us. Why is this relevant in this context? Because I am doing something I have been meaning to do for a while – and going ahead, making the first step and ACTUALLY DOING IT, is something that makes me happy. This group is all about helping each other share hacks, habits, ideas and strategies and to hold each other accountable to realise dreams big and small which we do in order to create happiness  (I am really struggling to think of a reason why somebody would want to realise a goal that is not ultimately about happiness) – and being a facilitator for something like that is a really great feeling. Yes there is a selfish element to that – setting this group up is contributing to my own happiness – but I have no problem being selfish.

So, this group is part of my own strategy. What else? Why would I call January 2017 a happy month? Other than cognitively making that decision, I am also actively doing things that make me happy. And knowing that I do them, that I actively look after myself, is really quite nice and I would encourage everybody to have a bit of a check-in to see if you can actively name things you do for your own happiness. This can of course also include doing things for others, but should result in you feeling happy too.

I am (re)listing my Acts of Happiness also as a reminder to myself to not drop the habit of doing them and as a future help for me in case I need a little happiness boost and can’t think of something to do. I could of course group them together in a more elegant way, but since “Sources of Happiness” can be an abstract concept for some people, I am staying on a very concrete level. They may seem trivial, but that’s exactly the point. Even if below somewhere I listed “hedgehog”. If I find happiness in seeing a hedgehog, that’s a million times better than not finding happiness in a spiritual encounter.

  • Playing the piano on a regular basis – I have done this since December already and have already learned 3 new songs. Lovely way for me to relax and re-energise.
  • Spotify – When I am not actively playing, I currently have music playing all the time. Not that this is a surprise discovery but living life with a melody is wonderful.
  • Singing – gee, more music?! I love singing. And there are some lovely playlists on Spotify (especially the Covers Unplugged one) that really work for me. And since there are enough time slots when I have my flat to myself, I indulge, sing along and create my own little La La Land – I am actually singing while writing this article.
  • New ritual  – I have created a nice little daily 10 minute ritual where I connect with and appreciate all the good things in my life. The setting for this could be straight out of a Bridget Jones movie, but I just don’t care!
  • Laughing – just today I went to a Boot Camp class at my gym and the instructor was so ridiculous that I collapsed and had a little laughing fit. Really good for my inner abs!!
  • Going out – like going to a concert at the nearby planetarium, taking an impromptu overnight trip, going to the gym, discovering new places in my neighbourhood, drinking cocktails with people. I can’t handle too much activity, but so far the balance between quiet time and activity time has been great, largely thanks to more active stuff.
  • People – again, the balance between me-only-time and me-and-others-time has been great and I have been getting better at scheduling time with others to make sure it really happens.
  • Reaching out – In the past 3 weeks I have already had some very rich and interesting conversations with some people which were partly a continuation from conversations started in 2016 and partly brand new, and all were a result of me pushing myself a little out of my ordinary day-to-day (making that phone call, publishing that article etc.). I would have never known where this would lead me, but all has been really good. So I will do more of that, not because I have to, but because I want to.
  • New challenge – I have committed to an excruciating physical challenge at the end of May. This will require constant training, a lot of willpower and pain. I can’t wait to wake up on the day after knowing I’ve done it! The person I am doing this with is also greatly contributing to my current level of happiness – and oh my, he has NO IDEA of just how grumpy I can get when exercising!! (I have promised him a footnote in the next (this) blog post. I don’t think I can do footnotes, so this will have to suffice…)   
  • Fasting week – Ever since I was 14 I’ve been curious about spending some time (like 4 weeks or so) in a convent. This has now evolved into an interest in doing a Fasting & Hiking week and I have identified the right one – still need to find the best date, but really, really looking forward to it already!
  • Decluttering – 3 bags went to charity again today. Big sigh of relief.
  • Small home improvements – I like changing things in my home but I can’t quite afford (or decide on) big ones so I am making small adjustments all the time. With pretty big happiness effects.

I could probably list 5 more, but instead I will finish this post with a link to this article (in German) about Harvard’s Shawn Anchor  who is asking whether “being successful in order to be happy” should not be reversed to “being happy in order to be successful” which I find a really interesting thought.

Picture credit: Unsplash via Pexels (CC0)

The Plunge Manifesto

9 Dec

Usually in December, I have the habit of looking back at the year, re-remembering all the things that have happened, creating lists and overviews in order to put a nice ribbon around the year and then put it on a shelf to welcome the next year with fresh, open arms.

Not this time. My personal 2016 was quite different from previous years and I have already created different accounts to keep track of my life throughout the year, which means that now I don’t really need much looking back to get an overview. 2016 was quite eventful, equally energetic and exhausting, pretty nervous at time and despite some bumps along the way (I literally started the year with a concussion after an accident in December 2015), pretty darn good overall because, if anything, it was full of life.

There are two 2016 events that stick out and had pretty big knock-on effects and shook up my life more than anything else. Both were decisions I took and then executed. They were surprising, tough, even somewhat brave. There were moments in the process when I felt incredibly weak and vulnerable, where I could not even imagine that there would be a safe shore on the other side but in both cases, I always knew that I was doing the right thing. And that knowledge gave me a lot of strength – knowing that while tough, the decisions were ultimately right. And they were mine. That knowledge gave me so much reassurance, power and serenity. I had very little idea about what would await me on the other side, but I knew that whatever it would be, it would also be right. Because the decision was right, the process was as right as I could manage it and because I simply chose to look at the whole thing that way. There was a lot of uncertainty, but I found that utterly exhilarating.  At last, the chance for a surprise or two! I (mostly) love surprises!

And, oh boy, surprises I have had. More than I could have possibly imagined when I started the process. One thing let to another and another and… My life has been transformed on many levels, has clicked back into old ways and has also had some totally new elements added to – as a result I am still buzzing and I am a lot happier than I was 12 months ago. And it’s because of decisions and actions I took. And a little drizzle of fate/luck/chance/accident….

This is a manifest for making and taking action on the right decisions. Paradoxically we have the tendency to hold on tight to things that aren’t right or even actively bad for us, so letting go of those things is one of the most liberating and exhilarating experiences life has to offer. And yes I am talking about things as little as that stupid eyeliner we hate but still use on a daily basis (why do these things take so long to run out?!) and things as big as the person sleeping next to us. This is right up there with actively reaching out to the things that are right for us. And we all know what’s ultimately right or wrong for us. We all have that intelligence living in our system – somewhere between our head, heart, stomach and that special smile that only gets triggered by certain people (and perhaps some things, but mostly people). We sometimes lose connection to that intelligence and it can be quite painful when we realise that the life we are living is in conflict with that inner truth – but that pain has a message for us and should be motivation enough to do something! And not only are we doing it for ourselves but also for others. If somebody is not right for us, we are probably not right for them either. But they may not be as brave as we are to make the right decision. Also, living in sync with our needs and enjoying the happiness that results from that can be a massive boost for others too. So by looking after ourselves we are in fact doing public service!

So – 2016 has 22 more days. That’s plenty of time to get in touch with our inner truth buddies and see how we’re doing. And then we pick one thing (1 is already more than 0) that we know is not right for us or that we want in our life. Then we have a glass of red wine. And then we do something about it. We stop it, we start it. We love it, we change it, we leave it. You know what’s right for you. So go on, take the plunge!

Picture credit: unsplash.com via www.pexels.com  (CC0 license)

How to Fab v.2

9 Oct

Well, hello there!

Sometimes life gives you hints that you shouldn’t ignore. In my case that was a number of people saying recently “You know that blog you used to write…”. Also, I recently wrote an article about burnout (here in de and en) that went totally off the charts (over 400k views) and I don’t think I have ever had (and probably never will have) such an audience again, so I thought I’d take this as a message from the universe (thanks!) and re-launch How To Fab. As much as I’d love to write a book or something with more meat, now is not the time for that, and I just love the more instant gratification of writing and publishing that I can have here.

So, after a 3 years hiatus I am back at the keyboard trying to wrangle my thoughts into coherent words. A lot has happened since the last post but a lot has also stayed the same and I am looking forward to explore all the spaces that my life currently consists of.

I will make some small changes to the way I was writing before (and I will only include copyright free images alongside the articles and give due credit), but I am keeping all previous blog posts up here – they may not reflect my thinking now but hey, life is a journey and in order to evolve we must accept that looking back can sometimes be a bit cringe-worthy.

Some of the highlights since October 2013:

  • I successfully completed my psychotherapy training and in June 2015 launched Gedankenklinik (Thinking Clinic), my Life Coaching and Psychotherapy practice.
  • After reading Sheryl Sandberg’s successful book Lean In, I joined a Lean In circle in Berlin and even set up a new one together with a fantastic group of women from all over the world and from different professional backgrounds. We now have over 40 members and our monthly meetings are totally inspiring.
  • I picked up and developed a deep love for core/strength training (me???) and managed to bring back Yoga into my life. Can’t even begin to say how happy this is making me.
  • I continue to feel extremely privileged when friends or colleagues trust me with their personal stories (good or bad) and when I become part of other peoples’ journeys.
  • I FINALLY managed to introduce karaoke to my company’s annual team gathering. I am tearing up when I think about that. So much happiness there.
  • My wheat intolerance went away. Over night. Just like that. Weird.
  • I wrote and recorded a song for my brother’s 40th birthday. Not quite Beyoncé but I have to admit: Making music is dope, yo!
  • I signed up to this magnificent daily newsletter called “Notes from the Universe”. Everyday at around 9am a message drops into my inbox that makes me either laugh or cry a little. It’s like being tickled or whacked by a slightly drunk angel.

I only actually read Sheryl Sandberg’s book after reading her very touching article on mourning after her husband had suddenly died in 2015. And it is also in response to that article that I want to share some of my thoughts and quarrels again. I can’t of course make myself entirely free from ego and narcissistic tendencies here too, but perhaps some of my words will help others with their life, just as I have benefitted from other peoples’ shared stories.

So, everybody: Welcome back! Drinks anybody?

Picture: kaboompics via pexels.com

Over to You

18 Oct

The journey has begun. 2 months ago, I started my Psychotherapy course and have loved every minute of it. Registering for it, and buying a tumble dryer, have been the 2 best decisions in 2013 – hands down. Part of it has to do with what I am learning, the actual subject matter, the people on my course and the lecturers, but it’s also due to the fact that I am simply doing something I enjoy. A lot of people have been (and still are) asking whether I am not overloading myself with work. After all I ‘have to’ go to this course two evenings every single week and one weekend every month. It’s a lot – no doubt – but these evenings have actually been some of the highlights of the past 2 months. Because I enjoy the course so much, it really does not feel like work. It feels like a present I am giving to myself every week.

Over 2 years ago, I wrote a blog post about Treats – the importance of indulgence and being nice to yourself every now and then. As a little treat trip down memory lane, I just re-read that post and am totally bemused that back in 2011 I did a test that told me I should be a Psychologist which at the time I found k-razy. What a difference 2 years make.

So, in a way this course is just another treat. There is of course the potential and the plan of this leading to something much larger than simply ‘enjoying the moment’, but the importance is: I am doing something that makes me happy. Sounds so simple. Yet, so many people I speak to do nothing in their lives that makes them happy outside or inside the ‘stuff you simply do’. Yes, we all have to work and the fun factor at work is not always particularly high. But whether or not work (or anything else) makes us happy is our decision, responsibility and doing. Work does not make us happy. The only instance that can make you happy is yourself. The same goes for stress. Nothing makes you stressed. It’s your reaction to a situation, your perceived imbalance between what is required and what resources you have to deal with that situation that makes you stressed. It is up to you. The bad and the good.

I find that thought motivating. It means I have responsibility and can’t rely on other things and people to make me happy, but it also means that I have freedom. Yes, dear Devil’s Advocate, we can not all run around and do whatever we feel like doing. But the area for movement and choice is much larger than we often think. Love it, change it or leave it. It’s actually that simple. Of course, the process of finding out what makes us happy can be a scary one, especially when we have forgotten what makes us happy. Or we are faced with the reality that a lot of stuff in our life actually does not make us happy and we should maybe change something. Change can be scary. Not to mention leaving something or someone. Change can be tough. But if it is the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. And most people (and official surveys) will agree that people usually regret the things they did not do, not the things they did.

But the good news is that while you are ultimately responsible for your decisions, you don’t have to go through the process alone. That’s where other people can be of great help. People who listen, who care, who can give a different perspective, who can ask questions, challenge some ideas, encourage. Coaches are good for that. Or friends. A good friend and a glass of wine and a piece of chocolate cake on a comfortable sofa listening to some good music after you have had a massage and just before you have decided to take tomorrow off.  Could be worse. Over to you.

Panta Rhei

4 Jun

Just like my good friend Bjork sang a few years ago: ‘It’s oh so quiet…It’s oh so still’, I am going through a lovely peaceful phase of ‘togetherness’. It feels very soft and has a nice real and clear touch to it. Excuse the expression, but I seem to be much more content and capable of being ‘in the moment’, rather than always feeling drawn to something else, a different place or a different state of mind. I think this is a combination of actually being in the same place (Berlin) more often than I have been in the past, of sleeping like a unicorn every night, of not drinking too much coffee, of having made my peace with running (as in, I do it whenever the f*** I want, which realistically is like once in a blue moon, not more and not less often, thank you very much Runkeeper) and of having re-found other things that re-balance me.

While I love getting lost in the slowness of things, I am fully aware of this state not being one of a standstill. As such is a mere illusion. Things never stand still. Everything flows (or Panta Rhei as my other pal Heraclitus used to say). My work life might feel a lot saner these days, but the madness is still happening. The moment you have finished a budget, things are already different to when you started and you need to reallocate and come up with new budget lines. You come out of a meeting and you have an inbox full of developments. You think you had a quiet few days and then you hear that your niece has started school, lost a tooth and has grown about 10 inches again. You have to constantly keep at it because nothing ever stands still.

Big things in my life are shifting right now – in a tectonic plates kind of way. In a few weeks time, I will start my psychotherapist training and whilst this probably won’t transform my life overnight, I am certain that it will have an impact on Future Fab. I can feel it tingling already  – knowing that there is a new path opening up in front of me, gradually leading me somewhere new. I am not breaking up with my current professional life, I am just adding a second dimension to it, hoping that one day there might be a combination of both and it will all make sense somehow (As if…).

And even then, it will be a process – there won’t be the ‘one moment where all things come together’. As much as I am a great believer in setting goals (big and small), so you know what you are heading towards, I am an even greater believer in the process itself. Today you might set a goal that looks just right, then you start walking towards it and on the way you discover something that will make you either move slightly towards the left, you might realise that the initial goal was a mere catalyst for movement and change, but that now the goal has shifted entirely. And that is absolutely fine – in retrospect, we can always connect the dots and add ‘sense’ to it. But by being too focussed on achieving a set goal, we can easily become blind to what might happen on the sidelines – and we can become so fixated that we don’t realise anymore why we are chasing that dream. Of course goals are still valid, as they get us going and they give us a framework. But by putting greater emphasis on the process, we accept that things (and we) might change and we put ourselves in a much better and open position to spot things on the way that are actually better for us. And we can’t use the excuse anymore that we only have to start being good tomorrow – it’s today that counts. Because, who knows what will happen tomorrow.