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Right person, right time?

30 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

“Friends come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime” 

I would quote the original author, but I don’t know who that is. Nevertheless, thank you for those words!

Not everything in life can be put into a neat category, but sometimes creating labels and identifiers helps to know where we stand, where we are at. Putting things into boxes can have a very calming effect. Having clarity usually is a wonderful thing – for those ready to accept the message. Clarity and order often come hand in hand, which is why categorising things that have the potential for causing confusion or irritation can help to stop the mind from going round in circles.

The words above were passed onto me when I was struggling to cope with the fact that some dear friends of mine had more or less dropped out of my regular life. I didn’t really understand why and I wanted them here right now! As soon as I heard those words, the inner storm began to quieten down and I began to understand that these may have been “seasonal” friends. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact as soon as I began to understand, I started to appreciate and thank them for being there during that particular time. Even if we never have such a close bond, even if we never see each other ever again, this won’t take away from the beautiful moments we shared during that season. This realisation actually then set me free in a way, as I was suddenly able to let go and to make myself available for new friends who had come with the new life chapter and whom I just hadn’t paid any attention to as I had been too busy hanging onto the shadows of the “friends past”.

Similar categories also work for “time” (although I have yet to find such a beautiful trilogy as with friends above): some times are for action, some are for refuelling. Some times are for building, some are for yielding. Some times are for doing, some are for thinking. Some for talking, some for listening. When we understand what a certain time in life is for – whether it’s a whole month or merely a couple of hours – we can make much better use of it.

This sounds super trivial. But we often feel frustrated because things don’t happen the way we want them to happen. People don’t do as we want them to. And I would argue that this may be because we have asked for the wrong thing or even the impossible at the wrong time.

After bashing our head against a literal or figurative wall a few times, it may be worth asking yourself:

“Am I trying to put a square peg in a round hole here?”

Am I forcing something that is past its due date? Is right now really the best time for this? Is he/she really the most suitable person for this? Is this really the best way?

We may find that we have chosen the wrong kind of person or the wrong kind of time.

Mr Right Now may be Mr Right….. I guess only time will tell which label to use.

Picture: Pixabay / CC0

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Where have all the big dreams gone?

29 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. (Oscar Wilde)

As I am lying in the sun, contemplating life from my mum’s terrace, happily fed and watered, I realise that the past weeks and months have gone pretty much how I had planned and hoped (apart from all the rain that has kept Berlin and myself from having a real summer). I only had a few things I wanted or didn’t want to do, and I think I can safely say I did / didn’t do them all. I must be thrilled, right? Life going to plan! All boxes ticked! Yeah, well, hm….I guess so.

My life right now is far from being a tragedy, but I know I am keeping it at a certain “mid-range” level. I am not shooting for the extraordinary nor for the most basic. Somewhere in the middle. And that’s ok for now, but I am realising that that also only yields certain results. That life without peaks and troughs is actually a bit boring. I am definitely playing it too safe right now to win or lose big. I am not even really dreaming super big. I totally had this coming – while I may have the ability to design my life in a pro-active way (which for July meant un-plugging to the max), I have at least the same ability to get impatient quite quickly and furiously. And impatience is absolutely starting to whisper into my ears again.

Going back to the potential trouble with expectations, it’s probably not a bad strategy to keep most expectations and plans achievable but at the same time life needs a few out-of-this-world-crazy dreams and ideas. The sparks that get our body trembling, the butterflies having a party in our stomach, the stuff so outrageously bananas that there is no chance in hell we would even want it to become true as reality could never match the bonkersness (bonkersity?) of our wildest dreams. And if it did, it might be disastrous!

We all need a couple of things in life that are out of our reach – that keep us going, that make us stretch ourselves. Getting everything we dream of can be a recipe for deep unhappiness and sloth.

While July was/is the month of relaxation, winding down and refuelling the tank, I am truly hoping that August will be the month for igniting the sparks again, for new energies, for new and crazy dreams – and not the ones I could feasibly make come true. The ones that are like the sun, beautiful and magical from a distance but too hot to get close to.

Picture: Mikhail_Y via Pexels / CC0

Wear the fancy lingerie

28 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

A few years ago, I stumbled across an article called “45 Life Lessons written by a 90 year old Woman” – the author apparently is Regina Brett, and apparently she wasn’t 90 but about to turn 45 and had just been diagnosed with breast cancer when she wrote that list. If any of this is true, I have no idea, but I continue to love this list and I do read it at least twice a year and every time different points resonate with me more than others.

Enjoy:

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.

8. Save for retirement, starting with your first paycheck.

9. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

10. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.

11. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.

12. Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

13. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.

14. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.

15. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.

16. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.

17. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

18. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.

19. Burn the candles; use the nice sheets; wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

20. Overprepare, then go with the flow.

21. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.

22. The most important sex organ is the brain.

23. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

24. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: “In five years, will this matter?”

25. Forgive everyone and everything.

26. What other people think of you is none of your business.

27. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

28. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

29. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

30. Believe in miracles.

31. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.

32. Growing old beats the alternative — dying young.

33. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.

34. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

35. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.

36. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

37. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.

38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

39. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

40. The best is yet to come.

41. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up.

42. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

43. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

44. Yield.

45. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Picture: ktphotography via Pixabay / CC0

Continuity – lessons from my 10-year old self

27 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

While I am currently travelling to my hometown to spend a few days with my mum, I keep thinking of a quote that I have known for a while and that has re-visited me at least three time in totally different contexts during the last 10 days. This one was a tweet by Alain de Botton from 24 July:

The most satisfying adult careers have a habit of drawing on enthusiasms and character traits already present in us aged 10.”

I’d say that’s pretty spot on for me. Thinking about myself at that age, I would agree that I have not changed that much. Much of what made me happy back then continues to put a smile and a laugh on my face today, much of what filled me with horror and fear still holds that very same power over me. I was already pretty confident, already a “generalist” with many ok-level talents across a wide range of physical and creative hobbies, I loved talking and making others laugh, in group settings I was often a leader (I was definitely a lot bossier then compared to now) and I got pretty impatient when people weren’t doing as I wanted them to, I loved being on stage, I loved spending time by myself writing and reading and balancing that with spending time with friends and family, I never really broke any rules, I loved coming home after a vacation, I had a very strong interest in languages and words and I could easily remember pages on end by heart, people’s opinions mattered a lot to me, I was not at all fussed about getting bad grades for something I was not interested in, I could be very happy for other people’s successes and the future was exciting.

I recently drew up a list of things, character traits, values, environments, activities etc. that are important to me, in order to find something new, something that I may have ignored in my current professional re-shuffle – and it struck me just how similar that list was to what I would have penned down (if I had had that perspective) at age 10. I have been pretty consistent with myself. Knowing that I had many of my idiosyncrasies already 26 years ago actually is a calming thought. Certain things really seem to be hardwired into my core and it would be extremely hard, if at all possible, to re-programme them. So why bother? Looking at the quality and the continuity of the overall spectrum of my skills and values, I don’t actually want to change much. Of course I still drive myself and others crazy, but hey, at least I am driving everybody crazy with the same old stuff! Just get used to it!

10 year-old Fabienne wouldn’t have the faintest idea of “management” and “leadership” when dressed up in business lingo (same goes for 20 year old Fabienne actually), but after putting my professional life and development into kids- / Fabienne-friendly language, I think she would give me the thumbs up. She would be happy to see me living such an international lifestyle, being in charge, working with interesting people, making sure things are being done properly, bouncing around on stage every now and then, making people laugh, care and understand…and most definitely, writing this blog. I was 10 when I started writing a diary, poems and plays. Writing has always been a great facilitator of my thinking, it has calmed me down and got me excited. It’s been a constant life companion. My biographers will have a very easy job. And yes, 10-year old Fabienne would be totally cool with fame and fortune.

So was there anything I did or enjoyed at the age of 10 that I have not catered for in a while? I am sure I will have the answer for that when I return to Berlin in 6 days time.

Picture: Pixabay CC0

Send your autopilot on holiday

26 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

I am a big fan of Adriene Mishler’s “Yoga with Adriene” channel and have been following her videos for a few years now. Two of her “mantras” she repeatedly uses during her routines and that I simply low are:

“Find what feels good” & “Stay connected”

So simple and so beautiful.

We spend so much of our lives in autopilot mode without realising it – from our wake-up coffee in the morning, doing our make-up, commuting to work, doing our work, commuting home, our evening programme etc. Autopilot is not necessarily a bad state to be in, but when used in excess, it dulls our live to a worrying point as it detaches us from what’s actually going on around and inside us. When we are in autopilot mode, we do things out of routine, without thinking, without asking ourselves what it is we actually want right now, or whether there is an alternative, a better way than our usual way of doing things. And more often than not, things we do out of routine and without thinking aren’t great for us. Even if they aren’t super bad, when we are not consciously tuned into them, we don’t enjoy them as much as we can and we are hence cutting ourselves short.

Find what feels good – there is not one right way of doing Yoga just as there isn’t just one right way of living your life. Every day presents us with a multitude of choices and perhaps what felt good yesterday isn’t the same as today. Whenever you feel nervous, irritated, whenever you can’t concentrate or you feel any discomfort, repeat those words and see if you can find out what you need in that moment. (This circles back to my article on Stress – “What do I need right now?”). Or if you notice yourself doing a routine task – is this making you feel good? Could you change it in a way that would make the experience a better one?

Staying connected – while I note it more with women, I think that also men struggle with their mind-body connection. I am a great supporter of a holistic take on life, health and happiness, and I strongly believe that our bodies tell us when they are in pain (often through our thinking), just as our minds tell us (often through our bodies). When we have lived on autopilot for too long, we may no longer notice or understand those signals and messages, but they are there and for us to be found.

Consciously monitoring and scanning our bodies and thoughts for messages, good or bad, for aches or pains, tingling or whatever sensations – and welcoming anything we may find, is a first step to a healthy relationship with ourselves. So many processes in our body happen well below our level of consciousness – our metabolism, breathing, digestion, growth etc. And of course we can’t consciously be aware of all these things all the time. But sometimes we should remind ourselves that while we take it for granted, our body works in our best possible interest – it has nothing but our wellbeing at heart (illnesses like cancer aside).

It sometimes takes just a few words to remind us that there are also things we can do consciously ourselves to support those processes. It doesn’t have to be Yoga, a calming cup of tea and closing our eyes for a few minutes, an invigorating walk outside, a quick stretch, 2 minutes of conscious breathing or really, really enjoying that piece of chocolate or glass of red wine…. if that makes you feel good, do it, but make sure to really, really enjoy it! And even if it’s something “naughty” you are considering – enjoy it! And if there is anything you could do right before or right after that you know will make the impact less painful, do it. Making conscious decisions, with your autopilot switched off, and listening to your mind-body connection – that certainly helps you to find what feels good.

Picture: Stocksnap via Pexels / CC0

Never enough time?

25 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

If you are

  1. one of the many people who find it difficult to switch off in the evening because you are already mentally going through everything that needs to get done the next day AND
  2. somebody who likes writing to-do lists

try this:

Make your to-do list for the next day the last thing you do as part of your present work day.

Most people write their to-do lists in the morning or plan to write their to-do lists, but then they check their emails instead, or a colleague hijacks them on the corridor and any plan they may have sketched out gets thrown over immediately. At least this used to happen to me a lot and it caused quite a lot of stress.

Once I got in the habit of writing my to-do list the day before, it really helped me to “get closure” on that day, it stopped me from worrying about forgetting something during the evening and I woke up to an already structured work day – structured according to my own preferences.

Right before clearing my desk, closing all browser tabs and shutting off the computer itself, something I really do every day, I take out my notepad and plot out the next day with all the things I want / need to get done, including everything from the smallest tasks to the largest tasks. I usually hold positions that require a certain amount of flexibility, so I never plan my days out to their maximum. Instead, I make sure to leave some room for the unexpected by only booking out my days to about 70%. This of course requires me to allocate certain time-frames to each task and to prioritise. When a certain list seems too much for a regular work-day, I add the number 1 behind anything that is really important and the number 2 behind anything that can wait until the day / week after.

I also know that my best thinking time is before lunch, so I usually schedule the big tasks for then. I can easily work 2-3 hours on something that requires my uninterrupted and full concentration and focus before 2pm – after that I tend to lose attention more quickly. So whenever I have something meaty to plough through, I make sure to do it in the morning – sometimes even before taking a look at my email inbox. And I always close anything that could distract me too much during that time – emails, chat programmes etc.

Putting everything on paper like that (I am a paper person) allows me to empty my head while still in the office and to focus on other things as soon as I close the door behind me, without the stress of possibly forgetting something important and without the worry of having an overwhelming amount of work. Once I see everything on my short- and long-term to do list in front of me, I can assess if this is realistic to achieve. If it is, I don’t need to worry, I just need to get it done. If it isn’t achievable, I either delegate, get support or see if certain time frames can be shifted. And even if a day ends with me realising that I have too much work in front of me and I can’t quite figure out what to do about it here and now, the first thing on my to-do list for the next day is finding appropriate solutions so that I only ever work with realistic to-do lists. Anything else is counter-productive.

It really only ever happens occasionally that something pops into my head after I leave the office, but since I usually have my notepad with me, I then simply add it to the list and in doing so, heavily reduce its potential for rummaging around in my head all evening. And when I arrive in the office the next day, I simply open my notepad and I can get started immediately.

This all sounds extremely well organised and yes, of course, some days it’s harder to stick to than others. But since I am doing this for myself, and since I enjoy being organised, it doesn’t feel like a burden at all. This daily scheduling routine can take as little as 5 minutes, but it really helps me with being more productive during the day (something I also enjoy) and shutting down my mental tabs and leaving work at work in the evening.

Picture: R391n4 via Pixabay / CC0

 

What did you expect?! (warning: this is a bit of a rant)

24 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

Yesterday’s post on the problem with Rejecting a Thank You ended with a nod towards Expectations. To me Expectations are a fascinating (and sometimes infuriating) subject, one that really gets me going on an intellectual and emotional level. Expectations are everywhere, around us and within us, but most of them are only slightly visible (think iceberg). And many of them are a great source of pain and suffering.

In my 2016 article on burnout (see here in German and here in English) one of the points I made was that wrongly set expectations are the ultimate premise for the development of a burnout syndrome. In a nutshell: if you set yourself expectations that are too idealistic (and many of us do that), your chances for suffering and ultimately a crash are a lot higher than if you restrain yourself in the beginning and stick with more realistic expectations. I still stand by that thesis and I continue to be baffled when I speak to (young) people about their expectations – especially in relation to work.

Considering the job as something that gives meaning to my identify and life, that makes me happy, where I don’t just exist but where my inner self is truly being seen, where I can develop myself beyond my own imaginations, where somebody sees my true potential and puts me on a journey to thrive….. well, that’s just a bit too much, I’d say. And almost ironically, that’s the quickest way into an existential crisis. Expecting existential fulfilment and happiness from a job can be a recipe for disaster if you don’t understand that these things are created within and by yourself. Even worse when those expectations come with a sense of entitlement – when did this happen?!

I think very, very fondly back to my early professional years, when I was a trainee at a TV station. I worked many hours and the tasks handed to me where sometimes not the most exciting, but they allowed me to be in a place to watch and listen. It was up to me what to make of those two years and looking back, I think I did a pretty good job. Also, because never in a million years would it have occurred to me to ask for – sorry, expect to be given – a Manager title, a budget, key account responsibility, input on a strategic level or the ability to shape the organisational goals. I knew I might eventually move up and into a position with a fancier title and pay check, but at the time, I was in the right place with the right set of expectations – the company’s towards me and my own towards the company and myself. It was a time to gain practical experience, to try out a few things, to make mistakes, to watch others make mistakes, to see how organisations really function on a day-to-day basis, to see why some people are successful and others aren’t and to try and understand and appreciate (from afar) the complexities of management and leadership.

The thing is, organisations haven’t changed – but expectations have. And that’s true for both employees and employers. There is still tons of menial work to be done and there are good reasons why the less experienced people should use those tasks as a test of their abilities. And there are complex tasks that require a certain level of maturity, knowledge, experience…something more suitable to people with a few more years under their belt. That should be totally fine and ok.

The problem lies with wrong expectations that have created truly unhealthy work environments, including the growing inability to take and accept responsibility. “My manager is an idiot” – he/she may be, but there is still a lot you can do that does not actually depend on them. “My colleagues don’t understand what’s important” – if they really don’t, you need to do a better job explaining it to them. Perhaps they understand your point, but disagree – perhaps you are not listening to them.

Also, if everybody is given at least an “Executive” title – what does than then mean? What’s so wrong with being an Assistant when I have just fallen out of university, at the age of 22?! Why do job adverts even use the words “unicorns”, “angels” and “superstars” when the job in fact is customer support – a very important unit for customer-facing organisations, but why unicorns?! If employers expect young people to already be at a “superstar” level, or worse, to consider themselves at a “superstar” level despite a solid foundation, they are creating monsters.

So many organisations don’t live up to the expectations they create – starting with job ads that promise the world. Even if these organisations actually want to create something special and want to be a good company to work for – they so, so often get the basics wrong and they simply don’t deliver what they promise. Selling has always been a core business discipline. And selling has never been about facts and “the truth”. But the further you move away from the actual core of the product (and that includes organisations talking about themselves), the more vulnerable you become. You don’t necessarily need to actively start lying. But you may simply lose sight of the core, you may lose your focus and you may lose the basic understanding of what it is you are doing.

The same goes for people. Self-confidence can be a great asset in life, but in so many cases, especially when paired with inflated experiences, it’s utterly misplaced and doesn’t actually make the person stronger. There is nothing wrong with high expectations, if they come with a realistic chance of success, and few things in life are as great as meeting high expectations – but you need to understand what’s required to meet them. Whatever is in your area of influence, you can and need to take responsibility for. Whatever lies outside of your area of influence, is something you can perhaps inspire, but it may create limitations that you may not be able to break through without extra effort, not for a while or not at all. If you are ready to roll up your sleeves, if you accept that listening may be more important than talking, if you have at least some patience, good for you. If you expect it to be easy or quick, you may soon get disappointed. And while disappointment sucks, it sometimes is the best recipe for getting out of the clouds – where all the unicorns, angels and superstars hang out – and back onto your feet.

Rant over!

Picture: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay / CC0