#resilience

Last month I followed a training course on resilience. All participants were asked why they decided to take the course. I went first. It was out of curiosity I said. I wanted to better understand how resilience works, and how it is actually defined. It’s one of those words, that because of their origin, in this case latin, everybody interprets and understands differently.

To me embodiment of resilience is a tree that despite hard winds and rough weather does not break. It can bend and suffer but it finds back to its form. Unbreakable. Being resilient is maybe not to be left unmarked by things you experience – but being able to live through it. To not bend, permanently.

How to become unbreakable? The possibility to shed some light on this question was the main motivation for attending the training course. Not so much for myself. More to find out about the magic ingredients that make someone become more resilient. To see what I could do to help others become more resilient. My kids, my friends. At some moment, even myself.

And while I started writing this blog last month, two terrible things happened. Not to me, to others. Nevertheless, they affected me too.

First one was the boat disaster outside Italy with over 700 migrants losing their life. It was all over the news. Τhis was last month. This month it’s almost forgotten. We went back to business as usual. But I haven’t. And mostly because of a photo I saw in the news coverage. A Greek coast guard officer carrying the dead body of a drowned boy. You know when they say that a picture can say more than a thousand words? This photo told the story of thousands of migrants that died in the mediterranean looking for a better future. Like the boy that drowned in the waters before Rhodes. As a mother having a young son I felt like it was my son out there lying in the arms of the coast guard officer. It was terrible. Mostly because I imagined what the mother of the boy must have felt, if she was still alive.

Like many others I am not resilient to the fates of innocent children and people that are victims of war, poverty, violence and suppression. I am breakable. I feel like I am falling apart. That drowned boy, is my son. The abused girl in the news, my daughter. The tortured woman in Saudi Arabia, my sister. I can’t look at all those fates, and stories without thinking it could be me, my kids, my family. And when you look at the big picture, they are: My family, my kids. Me. This world is my home. It’s everybody else’s home too. My thoughts and feelings are mostly like this when such bad things happen.

The second terrible thing that happened was the devastating earthquake in Nepal. Watching photos and videos of a poor country in ruins, I was mad at the news coverage counting how many Brits, or Germans might be among the victims. WTF! How about the thousand Nepalese that died in that earthquake? Why highlighting a single (Western) national victim and making that a headline? But that is business as usual – and applies not only to this earthquake. Whenever terrible accidents happens, we always highlight the fate of the poor Westerners as if the ‘others’ don’t matter.

Since when have we become like this? I don’t like myself like this. I don’t like us. This humankind.

There is a guy who has created an earth flag, for whenever we earthlings will land on other planets or encounter extraterrestrials… Is this the only way to unite as one? When we encounter Martians? Is there no hope of us to evolve to a truly united humankind, within this known planet?

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#On-y-va

One thing is kicking yourself out the comfort zone – it is quite another when you set out to do that with 10 people including husbands, pre-schoolers, tweens and teenagers.

Going to the mountains to do some serious skiing has been on the agenda for years. But so much has come in the way. A real effort was made last year when we packed our skis and went to Germany – however the lack of snow made the initiative futile. We still enjoyed Schwarzwald (Black Forest)!

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This year the destination chosen had an inbuilt snow-guarantee. It better should when you go to the middle of Norway in February. Just getting ready to leave for the mountains requires getting out of comfort zones. For the Non-Norwegians of us it also meant getting out of our comfort temperature. Equipping us all with ski-poles and the right sized ski-boots (both cross-country and down-hill) took some logistical efforts.

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Skipping all detailed descriptions of how sweaty we became dressing kids, pulling cars out of icy ditches just because some wanted to test the 4-wheel rental car and pairing the right skis and poles before setting off in the slopes – it was worth every drop of sweat (and swearing) when we witnessed our brave and sporty offspring. Some of them had never tried skiing and others were a bit rusty after 3,5 years living in Luxembourg without much opportunity to enjoy snow outside the living-room (like we normally do in Norway). Crispy and fresh air against the backdrop of endless quiet mountains added to the experience.

after ski sausages

Getting back inside the cabin in the afternoons experiments with single malt enhanced tea were interesting – it helped the grown-ups to relax and get ready for more fun in the slopes. Good food and wine are essential factors when setting out to conquer the wilderness. The Norwegian part of the expedition members felt compelled to show off the better sides of Norwegian culinary tradition – and were impressed by the courage to taste the admittedly scary smell-wise “rakfisk” – also eating skrei with roe (“are those real blood vessels!!?”) and reindeer (without telling the younger members of the group that we were eating Rudolph) was a part of extending comfort zone-experience.

There is a lesson learnt from this wonderful expedition. No matter how deep some of us were shoveled in really deep snow at times, and no matter how cold, cold turned out to be, when you get a bunch of people that are open-minded, with a great sense of humor, enjoying the world’s smelliest fish, you can go anywhere in the world and still will have a great time.

relaxing after skiing

There will for sure be more joint expeditions. Next time to slightly less cold place(s)!

#bored-out

I was recently asked whether I was going through any of the burnout phases. I declined politely, saying I’m far from experiencing any of them. I do though tend to overreact a lot (this I didn’t say), but that is not an odd behavioral change. My overreactions are more of a personality trait, and not necessarily a sign that I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown.They do however tend to coincide with PMS.

After declining politely the diagnostic suggestion, I added that I usually enjoy stressful situations because I (still) love challenges. They make me feel alive and allow me to push further. I should maybe have revealed that I actually feel the opposite. I’m bored. I don’t feel challenged enough. It feels like I am suffering from viral boredom. And there is actually a word for that. Or rather a syndrome. The Bore-out syndrome. “The lack of work, boredom and consequent lack of satisfaction”. This apparently is common among individuals working in modern organizations, especially in office-based jobs.

So I am not alone. It is rather the absence of meaningful intellectually challenging tasks than the presence of stress, that is my biggest problem. So what now? Usually when you try to explain this at work, you get shuffled with more meaningless, repetitive, dull tasks.

So how to avoid falling into a vicious circle of meaninglessness? How to avoid the b-stings? Neither being burned out nor bored-out? Well, it always comes down to the magic trick. Finding the right balance. Maybe adjusting the expectations to what challenges work can provide, explore if there is intellectual fun to be had elsewhere? Being a bit bored every now and then is probably even good (and there is for sure an online article somewhere about that too).

Everything depends on the equilibrium, on the ‘just right’. I learned today that in Swedish they have a special word for this, ‘lagom’. Well, I guess in nearly all languages you have a special word that describes effortless the right balance you have to strike in life (to be happy). Not too little, not too much. ‘Pan Metron Ariston’ as the Greeks say. Finding the right equilibrium and balance. In life.

After all consideration, just-rightness, lagom-ness and the eternal balancing act, I decided to halt. To push the pause button. I will inhale very deeply and exhale all anger, frustration, and impatience. And then I will try to enjoy the now. Without any thoughts on yesterday or tomorrow. Just now.

Now!

# who’s counting?

A few days ago it suddenly struck me – in my family there is a minimum of 70 socks per week going through the “laundry-cycle”. Sounds simple, but the socks involved set out on an uncertain journey – starting out as a couple, many of them lose their sock-friend, get lost and end up waiting for weeks in some basket or hidden in a bedsheet.

What spurred me to think about socks in the first place was not some sort of extra sympathy for this type of garment. It was more the result of a quite profound frustration concerning the non-functional sides of this household. I am not a particularly tidy person. But I like the house – especially kitchen and bathroom – to be clean. And I like finding things I need when I need them. For example the matching sock…… My husband is on the same wavelength as me concerning this. We do however tend to put things down, and forget about them for a while. Things pile up. The hallway for example is always cluttered. The kids naturally have our genes (and from time to time it seems as if this untidy gene grows exponentially). In addition we do not set the best of examples. The result is that we do find ourselves in chaos sometimes (and even more often than that).

Our struggle with the socks is a sort of symbol of how we deal with the house logistics. And it annoys me, pisses me off even. I am a bit ashamed. Because we’re not up to par.

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I am not really sure that calculating how many socks we actually need to put in the laundry basket, bring down to the laundry room, put in the washing machine, hang to dry/ put in dryer, retrieving them in pairs, and (not to forget!!) finally getting them into their correct drawer – is very constructive.. .. But thinking about things in numbers comes natural for me, maybe to give me an illusion of control?

The fact is that there are 70 socks to deal with per week. And that fact panics me. The pile of unsorted socks makes me understand Cinderella when she was given the task of sorting beans from peas by the mean step-mother. With socks there are no quick-fixes that I know of. Of course one could handle it like some friends of ours, not nerds enough to get annoyed by household chaos. They just put all the socks of their kids (unpaired) into a drawer. Kids can chose either to pair them (good luck) or to just randomly select two socks. It’s the waldorfian solution.

But I’m a nerd. My only hope is that the kids more and more will understand that socks do not find their sock-friends on their own – they are in need of some assistance!

On the other hand, the socks should also take some initiative to stay together and stop hiding in places nobody can think of.

#uncharted waters

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How many of us hesitate going into the cold water? Or rather jumping into it? It doesn’t matter whether it is at a wonderful Greek beach, or at the local swimming pool. We hesitate. Because we expect the water to be cold. At least I do. Kids too. Some brave ones however, just jump into the water. Without knowing how cold it might be. They simply skip this first part in their mind and jump directly into the more pleasant one.

That might not be the best metaphor for making decisions in life and going through each painful step to reach a goal, but it’s one I imagine always in front of me whenever I enter uncharted waters. How can I skip the first step.

And this moment, this everlasting moment of hesitation makes me feel permanently stuck in life, unable to shift gears. But what causes this hesitation? When…

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#uncharted waters

How many of us hesitate going into the cold water? Or rather jumping into it? It doesn’t matter whether it is at a wonderful Greek beach, or at the local swimming pool. We hesitate. Because we expect the water to be cold. At least I do. Kids too. Some brave ones however, just jump into the water. Without knowing how cold it might be. They simply skip this first part in their mind and jump directly into the more pleasant one.

That might not be the best metaphor for making decisions in life and going through each painful step to reach a goal, but it’s one I imagine always in front of me whenever I enter uncharted waters. How can I skip the first step.

And this moment, this everlasting moment of hesitation makes me feel permanently stuck in life, unable to shift gears. But what causes this hesitation? When we were around 20 we just jumped at the opportunities offered to us long the way. We were taking risks. Without thinking of the consequences. We kept embracing everything that popped up. At least that is how it seems now, or what we want to believe.

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What is different now, 20 years later, is that we have numerous responsibilities. Kids for starters, a mortgage, a shared life project with the husband. Our parents. There are higher stakes and entering uncharted waters feels riskier. So taking chances like applying for that exciting job, leaving a secure job environment for something new, or even starting your own business takes serious courage. And support from family and friends.

It is also about facing the fact that time (eh….life) is moving faster and faster – and the once so endless time to find and get opportunities is not so infinite anymore. It does however not help to put yourself in near-panic and profound fear of missing good, fun, exciting (because new) and mind-bending opportunities.

That is why I chose to make a plan – a step by step plan – setting my goals. Do some solid research on attainable goals. And most importantly finding out what I really want to set out to do. And maybe replace the hopping into the cold water analogy with a better one: Jumping fences. Starting low, not too high ones, but quite a few. It will take some time – but in the end I might not be afraid to aim higher. Because I will have gained the confidence by having started with small steps. And eventually, after several fences, I will have reached my set goals.   

*photo by Elias Carlsson

#The sum of all parts

Everything happens for a reason. At least that’s what they say. Sometimes things happen because we let them happen, or because we are responsible for them. This year, many good things happened but equally many bad ones. Does that make it a good, an average, or a bad year?

When you lose someone you haven’t seen in a long time, you suddenly realise that you take far too many things for granted. You take it for granted that loved ones, family, friends, will always be there. Constant(s) in our life. The ‘I love you’, ‘I miss you’, ‘I need you’ you never said, suddenly burn deep inside. To the ones you never said it enough times. And to the ones you never said it before, because you never found the courage or the right moment to do so.

Realising (for real) the non-eternal aspects of life makes you think and feel. This realisation can create a surge, a push or a crossroad showing what you have and what you could have – and provide a basis for some decisions. How do you reach your goals? What are your goals and what do you want to achieve? How to pick the fruits in life when they are ripe?

The end of a year underlines the prospect of new beginnings. Clean sheets, fresh starts, tabula rasa. This is daunting in itself. When adding to that you actually want (need) an alternate route of life manifesting itself shortly – don’t be surprised if a feeling of panic might lure around the corner.

Maintaining aspirations in life is a good thing. However not seeing the woods for the trees is troublesome. Some realism blended into the ambitions might be wise. Equilibrium and happiness is most probably not achieved through ticking off things on a list that you didn’t make. You need to find out what is important in your life. Climbing that mountain top? Getting that executive post? Learning how to sew? How much do these things really matter?  

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Not much if you haven’t figured out yet what should be important in (your) life. Re-thinking the value system might be a good way to start the new year. Have we attributed right values to everything and everyone in our life? Do we appreciate enough the things that really do matter. For us, our happiness, our life?

Instead of making a things-to-do list, I will make an inventory of what I have achieved. So far. And maybe then, when I will start to add up all the ‘small’ things I have (achieved), I might realise that the sum of all things, all those small parts, is more than I imagined.

# a stroll in the park (of life)

Every now and then we get the chance to sneak out of every day routine. To call in sick and enjoy a day at home reading (though we don’t even have time for it any longer). Not going back to a meeting after having been to the ladies’ room. Then there are those rare occasions, like skipping a workshop ‘just’ to have a rare philosophical discussion with interesting and nice people instead. The feeling of taking a chance and not be where you are expected to be is exciting. Altogether choosing an unexpected approach to things – to a home project, destination for a holiday or a new job is refreshing.  It has even been said that it is good for development of the brain to divert from routine.

Life is short and so are the possibilities we’ve been given to do things different. Most people do not set out to live a routine life. Changing plans and going off the path can often give a feeling of being in the driver seat. And many people like that. And if you don’t want to spend your life thinking “what if”, you need to follow your heart. To listen to your gut feeling. To follow another path. If you can’t find one, make up one yourself. If you believe that nothing is predestined, then the future can be influenced by your own ability and guts to divert from the main roads and currents.

So why do we keep driving on the main roads? There are several reasons. The main road is often broad, it is safe, there are a lot of road signs and you know you will get to one of the bigger cities. So taking the main road is basically easier. People ask less questions. You ask yourself fewer questions. Because you know where they lead you. In some parts or periods of life taking the main road is actually the best thing to do. Think back when you decided your education or career. Were you truly aligned with your potential and strengths or did you enter that particular university or line of business just because lots of others were doing the same?  I didn’t. Everybody else was studying economics, law or psychology. I looked up at the ‘menu’ of the home university and stumbled upon a new subject called ‘computational linguistics’. This was so exotic and unknown to me, I had to choose it. I diverted from the main road. I took a different path.

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It is about recognising the chances of doing something fun, difficult, challenging, unorthodox, to sometimes do some things differently – or at least with a twist. That’s the exciting part of life. You never know where it leads you.

I remember learning that my grandfather – growing up in poor family,  was not allowed to continue school even though he got a scholarship – because he had to work to support his family. Throughout life he was careful with money – only towards the end of his life he realised that he should have travelled more and regretting not having done so. Jumping on life’s’ opportunities is not always as simple as it sounds. Some of us are fortunate to have real choices – we owe it to ourselves at least to consider them and know what we discard if we choose to stay on the mainroad throughout life. Sometimes when we’re given a chance we should take it and don’t think further. Don’t wait for any flash lights indicating you “here is your chance”. Look for chances. Take chances. Grab chances, or create them. Don’t wait for any of them to be offered to you on a silver tablet.

We need to keep our eyes and mind open to path changers and those unique moments of opportunities. This is what we should tell our kids (too). And show them that life is beautiful. And mostly like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. Nor what you’re going to do with it. But every change starts at the individual level. They start with you making a choice. Sit with your kids and watch (again) Life is Beautiful or Forrest Gump and  talk with them about embracing life and every different turn it offers.

# Foam on water

Fairy tales are wonderful when introducing young minds to the great world of books. The stories are usually illustrated and short enough to capture attention that might fluctuate quite widely for 5-7 year olds. The narrative often includes following a hero or a heroine on a quest or some sort of adventure. And there are sometimes small lessons to be learnt. We all know Aesop’s fables – for instance about the tortoise and the hare – and that it doesn’t help to have good abilities as long as you are lazy and scorn others for not being as good.

But the more common ones are the modern fairy tales that we feed our kids with nowadays, or rather our kids are being fed with by the film industries. Those fairy tales are adapted, more often abducted from classical ones, or invented by Disney and the likes. But do those spur a deeper and more realistic kind of insight? Yes – there are morals. And fights between good and bad. But they most often end on a high note – no matter what the struggles have been in the meantime.

Human life does not always end on a high note. Life entails lots of challenges, disappointments, grief and broken dreams. What seeds of expectations are we planting in the heads of children through what they read or maybe more often watch? That good always conquer evil and that the prince and princess always gets each-other and of course live happily ever after… And since we tend to treat the kids as princes and princesses they will most surely think (at least for a while) that someone will come with their white horse and bring them to the castle as soon as they are adults.

The other day I picked up up a really old fairy tale book to read for the 5 year old and his cousin, also 5. I found the story about the little mermaid appropriate since we are going to Copenhagen next week to have a look at the famous mermaid sculpture. The story is beautiful. It tells about how the youngest daughter of the sea-king longs to be allowed to visit the world of people, to see how they live, the lights of the big city and the snow on the mountains. She falls in love with the prince. She makes a huge sacrifice in order to get close to the prince on land – she trades away her voice.

The five year olds made big eyes – and the story continued. I started realising that unlike in the movie this old original edition was not ending so well – at least for the heroine. In short – the little mermaid turns into foam on water since the prince marries another girl. A princess!

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The kids took it well. I am not sure it would have been that easy if they were watching this version on TV. Even if not ending up as foam on water is very realistic it still conveys a message – not everything ends well in the world. Counting on getting the prince (a dumb one in this case) can create difficulties: diverting the ambitions that should have been directed towards more attainable objectives. Dreams are good to have. Being on another planet is not so good.

This is not to say that everyone should dig up all the original (and gory) versions of the favourite stories. But from time to time it may be an idea to introduce something more mind-bending and unexpected. My kids love the Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde or the giant turnip by Tolstoi, not to mention Peter and the Wolf and the Little Prince. This I found is the best way to introduce children not only to books but also to literature. And make sure you put your best storytelling voice to it, because it can beat every movie out there.

#this is forty

Sometimes, more often than before, I have the feeling there’s more in life than this. This, as in what I have right now. There is of course a strong correlation between these type of thoughts and my age. Which by the way is forty (+2).The older I get the more I feel I have still many things to accomplish. Or, that I have to move on. Or rather move out. Out of my comfort zone that is.

And here I am paralysed by the thought to not become the creative person I’d like to be. I could be. And it scares the shit out of me that I have become my worst enemy. Hindering myself, getting in my way. I don’t know where to start, and am too impatient to elaborate my ideas. According to an article I read recently, this should be the perfect time to begin.

Some people might be tempted to label this a mid-life crisis. This is not the case: Honestly, it is not. It is about the urge to live a full life. To be able to squeeze the lemon until last drop of juice – even until there is not any more zest – so that you know for sure that you used all the chances (= juice drops) you were given well. And that you looked for – and found some of the even more hidden opportunities that lie under rocks.

So while trying to figure out what to do to add to the fulfillment of one’s life project frustration builds up. Energy that should have been spent on being innovative rather goes into managing the state of mind, along with the rest of everyday activities. And once frustration gets a hold, it is sometimes like an avalanche attack and a whole arsenal of things in life feels not-up to par. Then it is time to put both feet on the ground. Get some perspective – maybe by first zooming out and ask where are you in this big-big world? In this scheme called life.

Healthy – check. Married – check. Kids –check. Job – check. Roof-over-your-head – check. Ebola, Syria, poverty, water shortage and hurricanes – none of those threats are in your vicinity or imminent for you. So why the hell are you frustrated? Why am I frustrated? Cause I know I could do better. I could do more. Or simply, because I have everything else. Because I take things for granted. Because I have the luxury to think. Something that some several billion in this world don’t have. So, I’m spoiled.

And this is where I take a more close-up look at my everyday-life – the 5-year old stroking my hair and asking if I’m are alright, telling me “I love you mum”. I think of the really nice wine I enjoyed drinking last night, and the metro leaving on time. And here I take a deep breath. One that lets me get rid of stress and anxiety (and frustrations). One that lets me acknowledge the luck I have not to leave in fear, to be free, educated and and not to hunger. I take a deep breath and thank the universe for that.

After that deep breath it’s good to become creative at least in the kitchen. This adds to the psychological feeling of equilibrium.

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There is a recipe for Skillingsboller (‘Schilling’ Buns ) a typical Norwegian treat. Bake these buns. While waiting for the dough to grow you get some time to calm down in a slow way. A glass of red wine adds to that. After the buns are done – share them with someone you care for.

And it is only after getting into some sort of balance again you can start pondering again about how to extend your life project.