Thursday 27 January 2011

Being crafty

... in the true sense of the word, dears! I am not going to attempt anything dubious.

My craft is born out of clumsiness. The lady of the mansion once tried her best to prove herself as plumber, fixing an almost blocked drain. Which means to go to Tescos, buy the most poisonous stuff you can find, and poor. Previous trials however had shown that a piece of plastic hose used as replacement of the syphon - don't question the plumbing in our house too much, German and English appliances just don't mix well - so this piece of hose already uses the better part of a bottle. 

And that is where the plumbing skill comes in: Remove the drainage hose, get a thin one and fiddle it in until the blockage is reached, and bring the poison straight to the source of the problem. 

And that is where the clumsiness comes in: Drain pipe fills up quicker than expected, poison runs into cupboard, backlock in the hose, trying to wipe, forgetting to keep everything straight, pouring bleachy poison over one of my favourite shirts. Big blotch on the shoulder and some streaks on the arm.

And that is where craftiness comes in: Take shirt, fill syringe with bleach (so far without the needle, but will keep that option in mind), and start doodeling.

Well, I probably should have thought harder about a pattern, it is a bit sperm-ish... but it worked!

Ta Ta

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Another Photo Therapy

I actually like driving to work in the mornings; it is like going on rails and I start thinking about life - past, present, future.

45 years gap
And this morning I wondered about two of my pictures which I had put into albums yesterday night. I chose them as cover for two individual albums and they accidentally got displayed next to each other in the overview. I was rather blown and instantly posted them in the next day's diary, yet kept thinking about them ever since. So, I guess I will have to post them again as I am reflecting the past 45 years which lie between them.

During the majority of that time I was floating along with the stream, only getting upset when I didn’t feel that I was fitting in. I was a little moaner, finding all sorts of excuses about why things didn't work out the way they were planned. My mum used to sometimes shout at me 'to just DO and to try harder, to practice, and to stop bickering' as all too often the excuses were brought on quite aggressively - a sign of helplessness and inadequacy, as I now know. Hence all measures were taken during that period, aiming to avoid those incidents. One was to mock myself before others could do it, the other was ‘doing things before even being asked', ‘making other people happy’ and 'having a plan A, B, C and D' for everything. My motto of 40 years: Be prepared for every occasion, don't trust other people's commitment, plan D always has to be: 'Do everything yourself'.

That means living other people's lives and opinions quite a lot. In order to anticipate and to take pre-emptive action one has to commit to others and ones own life will come last quite often as a result. The praise one gets, though, usually creates enough happiness to go further down that route. This way one becomes a master of compromise.

Unless one goes a bit too far, that is. I reached a point when my voluntary 'putting myself last' became taken for granted. All those activities that were meant to make me accepted, to belong, and to blend me into the group of people I had chosen wanting to belong to, backfired. Project Rika and initially Incredible Ladies started off to remedy that. Get the right clothes, get a little bit in shape: They would admire me for that, and as I would blend in nicely, they would accept me as peers, eventually.

Well, what can I say - As I moved on I lost interest in blending in. I found a new motto: If something is not working, one might want to try differently rather than harder. So the last five of those 45 years have become a quest for being different. For me 'belonging' is not an option anymore. That shows in my projects and that shows in how I organise things. I still plan well, but I allow space for things to go wrong once in a while. It needs trust in other people, trust in my skill to improvise, and trust in coincidence. Sometimes improvising brings great results and makes the outcome much more vibrant than a pre-planned route. Additionally I can achieve so much more with my time, now that I am not waisting it in creating plans which then get binned because everything went smoothly anyway.

Interestingly enough I get confirmation for my new lifestyle from all sorts of sources. One is Brene Brown who promotes imperfection as source of creativity, authenticity and joy. Now that I am not striving for 'belonging' anymore I seem to be getting it for free. On one last note I would like to quote a friend who is a good quarter of a century younger than me and received this wonderful headstart of thought from a friend of hers. She calls it a eureka moment:

You have to give luck a chance!

Thursday 20 January 2011

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Making the world go round

Sometimes there are these thoughts which sound so clear and true in my head, and once I start writing they send me to explore all sorts of paths. Take this one:

Life is not about taking the right decisions. Life is about spotting options...

... and taking decisions at all! Aren't we all a bit jealous of those people who just go for things and it always seems to be working out for them? Whatever they do, they always come out on top. They surely must somehow be able to always take the right decision. Thing just is: There is a quite big likelihood that this is not always true. They might be starting off with one idea and ending up with having achieved something completely else. What we see is the success. What we don't see are the stages during which they turned corners and changed direction, and we usually don't know what they actually had set out to do.

But isn't determination, sticking to a plan, and pulling through important for being successful?

YES! I do think that in order to be successful one has to be determined. With that I however mean, being determined about a goal, and not necessarily about how to get there. And it does not mean that along the way one is not allowed to learn things that open other options, which may be even more attractive, beneficial, efficient, or promising. And it definitely does not mean that by achieving something else first, the initial plan is necessarily abandoned.

The important thing is to get moving in the first place. 

Even taking a decision against something is a way of 'moving forward'. It is one obstacle out of the way, opening room for thought and further actions.

I find that two main things can be blamed for not moving forward: Fear and laziness. Taking a decision is always done out of an information background. If this background is insufficient we usually respond with fear. We cannot assess the risk - risk for our life, health, future, or just plain 'keeping face'.  If we only would know more... and that brings us to laziness: Learning means effort. Effort to study factual things and effort to understand the minds of others and ones own.

Actually: I think it is OK to be lazy!

... as long as it is a decision consciously taken. All to often we are lazy because it is the simplest option of all. And the longer we are lazy the more we are afraid of the things we don't fully understand. Laziness and fear oh, so easily can form a vicious circle.

We all take decisions every day: Crossing a street is a decision, even a dangerous one. Aren't we lucky that our parents taught us at an early stage on how to assess this risk? We intuitively know what food is safe and what clothes are sensible... As children we absorb this essential knowledge like a sponge. The one thing that  successful people have in common, is that they still have this capability. And out of experience they know that should their assessment be incorrect, they will find a new piece of information that will help them turn the wheel round. As the wonderful Randy Pausch once said: A brick wall is not to keep you out, but  to show you how badly you want something.

Bricks are like pieces of information, make them your own and a door will open in that wall. Successful people don't mind if the door does not open in the place where they expect it, they just trust that this wall will break, if not in the middle, then left or right, and they don't mind that they might not arrive in the expected place when they get through, they just keep moving.

Probably I should elaborate what I mean with successful people. I don't mean the ones who have a high position and a big salary. I mean people who are happy, who do the things they love doing, who are spreading this happiness and who enable others to achieve their goals. They are explorers! They take decisions well informed yet swiftly, buzzing of excitement to see the options resulting. 

For them the world is a wonderful ocean of options. Every decision they take is like choosing a stone for a skipping game. It will cause ripples which may reach the shore line just in time when someone else is ready to get their feet wet. They are not worried that their ripples might not be appreciated. Yes, these ripples will hit the shoreline, but the people standing there have a choice. They can walk right in and take on the options given to them, they can just watch, or they can walk away. This is their decision to take!

Let's not deprive the world of our ripples, however small they might be.They could still be washing free the perfect skipping stone for somebody else.

... and that will make the world go round!

Monday 10 January 2011

Friday 7 January 2011


... and coincidences.

Now that I am bringing all my projects back on track and the decision is made that the book will be an eBook, I gave a printed copy to a friend who has an aversion towards electronic books and a love for the printed matter. It always is a bit scary to give it away face to face with the possibility of a rather too straightforward feedback looming. Well, and then we met in the coffee corner after she had read half way through and she asked: I like your stories, they are funny and all, but why did you write them?

Hmm...?! We met only a few month ago, so she only knows me as a rather confident almost 50 year old, and she doesn't know that I only left my teenage state of mind a couple of years ago and eventually started to grow up. I had no idea how to answer her question in a nutshell, and then coincidence came to aid when the very evening I eventually took the time to listen to some TED talks of which the announcements had been sitting in my inbox since almost a week - and there it was: My answer lies in the talk of Brene Brown about 'The power of vulnerability' (I later discovered a second talk elaborating further on the matter).

She was talking about the wish for being connected, for the need to belong, the feeling of inadequacy which makes so many of us strive for perfectionism and taking preemptive action to please in the hope that then we might eventually be loved or at least be accepted - I call it 'good girl syndrome'. She mentions excuses and blame which are used as a cover to avoid being hurt, and a very powerful emotion which is 'shame', which I refer to as 'embarrassment'.

No! No need to read through all those links above which will lead you to my respective articles ... ah, who am I kidding? Of course I want you to read them and to recognise how brilliant I am for having figured it out, all by myself - but honestly: Those links are giving me some sort of an approval that with my ideas and pamphlets I am not on my way to the loony bin, and that with the advice the one or the other might be taking from those, I am not taking you down that lane with me.

For me it was all about growing up, becoming more confident, but those are rather high level concepts. How do I do that? How do I become more confident? I am a compliant control freak, a perfectionist, there must be some rules and a few exercises which I could apply and then there I am. Instead the process was all fuzzy, my brain went along paths which I didn't expect. John, my mentor, triggered thoughts and ideas, and I was willing to let myself fall into whatever would happen. I did not understand why it worked, though.

I never felt 'enough'. I was a woman who felt so inadequate that even the check-out lady at Tescos felt obliged to tell her off, for crying out loud. This whole episode resulted in a ranting article about 'Food Shopping'. And in writing about it, in the attempt to turn the story round, over and over again, until the rant became funny so that it could be published, something else happened: The subconscious learned that this woman did not tell me off because I am inadequate, but because this woman is a silly cow and a very bad employee. It was me, allowing her to be offensive to me. This woman was grumpy for her own reasons. It was not her seeing me as inadequate, it was me allowing her actions to make me feel inadequate. It was in my head, not in hers.

But still: One cannot just go out and switch the inadequacy switch off. One could try and use positive reinforcement, subjecting oneself to increasingly difficult situations and then - maybe with the help of a mentor - get the positive things out of it, so that gradually the subconscious mind is starting to accept the person one is.

You know what? Whenever I write: 'My mentor', as I am sitting here at my desk, 9:20 on a Friday morning, my heart rate still goes up! As a grown up, confident woman one does not admit to the need for somebody who helps with this sort of stuff. Admitting that one needs a mentor, means admitting that one is not adequate, that one is 'not good enough'. I got so lucky to be able to slip into this mentor thing. When I started having those work one-to-ones, it was a  a mandatory admin management thing. I didn't know that he was a coach; I needed half a year to find out that I was coached. By then I saw the advantages and was all game. Would I have ever looked up a coach on the Internet and booked an appointment? NO!

And now, admittedly, I sometimes feel that I could do with some more coaching, that I still have open questions. So, imagine me listening to this talk from Brene and ever so often shouting out: Yes! Eeeexactly! and then she gets to the point where she mentions the word 'vulnerability' for the first time.

Wham! That's it, the final clue!

Vulnerability is the culprit. It is the strongest of all feelings and the crux lies in the mother of all vicious circles:  The feeling of inadequacy, of 'not being enough', makes a person vulnerable. We try to cover it up at whatever cost; by getting a mentor however, we have to let that cover fall. Not just in front of the mentor, but to the world. This first step of hiring a person for help, we have to achieve alone while being in that vulnerable state. Admitting to it feels like giving a knife into the opponents hands, opening the arms wide and consciously expecting the attack. Yes, for me it felt that physical, and even more: I know how a cut feels, I know it may be mended, or if not, that than at least it will be all over. But on an emotional level there is no time frame and I can never be quite sure what the blow will do to me. Will it cause depression, anger? I don't know how much I can trust myself, could in my anger I hurt somebody? And I know that I will be alone. For a flesh wound doctors would be rushing to aid voluntarily, people would visit even if they don't like me, there would be compassion. The blow to the mind would be quite the opposite. The one thing I was striving for in the first place, compassion and bonding: Out of the window!

And nevertheless, according to Brene and to my own experience, the solution lies in allowing exactly that to happen. Apparently John managed to teach me, how to allow to be vulnerable. Turns out that my 'healing thing' is writing on the Internet. There is nothing about me that you don't know. For others it could be opening up to a partner or mending a family feud.

And you know what? The most amazing thing is that NOTHING happened. My healing example is the separation from a friend. We were very close, but our lives developed into different directions. She got a high level job and mingled more and more with her work colleagues and after a while I didn't get invited anymore. Of course I felt inadequate and low about losing the bond! I found excuses: 'Oh we are both so busy and one has to build networks to be good in the job.' I blamed: 'Looking at it closely, she always was after status'. I was angry and frustrated: 'I never thought that SHE would...'

Well, I learned to accept that WE are different with different lifestyles, that WE just didn't have anything to talk about anymore and drifted apart, that if WE would meet today for the first time WE might not have become friends in the first place. So now I can treat her like any other acquaintance, including of the prospect of future friendship. I am open to her approach, whatever that is. Does it make me vulnerable? Yes! Do I mind? NO!

I now know that I don't have to try and please everybody in order to find a few friends whose friendship I then cannot enjoy, because I am eagerly wishing to befriend the people who don't want me, and whose rejections throw me into depression; ... and I will publish this darn book, although the prospect of success is rather small while the proscpect of criticism is rather big. Eventually I am enough! I am the person I am, I am not hiding or pretending: Take me or leave me!

Monday 3 January 2011

The Way We Are

first published in 2007

Actually, it's less about ‘What we Are’ it’s more about ‘What we think we are’.

We think that the way a doctor would see us describes ‘What we Are’. Measuring this and that – and then you are getting told whether or not you are the norm. How wrong we are: Visit different doctors and you get different interpretations of the measurements. And there are these miss-measurements due to a ‘having to perform’ factor. For example blood pressure measurement can go wrong because you are so nervous. It even has a name. It’s called ‘white coat hypertension’.

Then there is this thing where we measure ourselves to buy something from a catalogue. Sounds so straight forward – you get the data, compare it to a table, get a number and that’s your size. Ha! Again you didn’t perform. The stuff you ordered doesn’t fit. So either you must be too stupid to measure correctly or your body is too awkward to fit the norm. And then we see models in magazines and all the celebs at the telly, and we are made to compare ourselves with them – okay, we are bound to fail here anyway.
And we have this faint recollection of how we were when we were younger. Probably not perfect either, but much more in reach of the dream – or were we?

Guided by wrong idols
All this together forms an image in our brains of ‘What we Are’. And as we are failing more often than not the perception we have of ourselves usually is: Unfit, too fat, too skinny, too ugly, too everything...

But - It’s just not true!

All this input is filtered by other people. Even our own memory is able to trick us. We tend to get haunted by embarrassing situations from the past while the good memories are more likely to be considered accidental.
Darlings! What you are missing is self esteem. If you believe any of the above – have a closer look in the mirror. Usually it will turn out that all the faults you think you have are nothing but a bit of an imbalance. Everybody has good bits and bad bits. All that it needed is a bit of knowledge on how to disguise the not so good ones and to show off the really good ones. That's where the 'Incredible Ladies' enter the stage and come to the rescue! 

Pears and apples
Good examples for my imbalance theory are a lot of Chinese ladies. In European eyes they are very skinny, but still: They feel fat. They usually are very petit and have a very small frame. They are very small around the shoulders, but a bit wider around the hips – what is good, otherwise they would be in trouble when delivering babies. This makes them pear shaped. Although they don’t carry a lot of fat, they feel fat around the bottom bit. But actually it's not the bottom that is too big, it's the shoulders which are too small. You can't do anything about your bone structure, so they are stuck with the hips, but they can do something about too small shoulders by building up some muscles. In the end they even may weigh a bit more, but they will have a balanced hourglass figure, and the bottom will appear thin. Believe me - I was a pear - only 6 sizes bigger than these Chinese ladies. When I started exercising I didn't focus on the bottom - which I hated - but the shoulders. I did everything to make my shoulders look wider - and it worked!

Some Latin ladies are known to carry more weight around the bottom area. And if they are small in the top they are a pear as well, while a lot of European ladies seem to carry their weight on the top bit – what makes them apple shaped.

Every single pear or apple has good bits on their bodies. But we are made to stare at the not so good ones all the time. And we envy what the other type of fruit has what we are missing. So we forget to see the potential of our bodies on which we can build upon. We only have to get a few things right: the right shape and colour of clothes for instant success, and the right exercises for the long term. And then everybody will see us for what we are: Gorgeous, incredible women!