Stuck in the middle

Have you ever felt being stuck? To not be able to move forwards nor backwards.  Actually not be able to move at all. Not necessarily in the literal sense. But in any possible sense. Or direction.

How does it feel to be stuck? To feel like suffocating because you know where you want to be. What you want to be. With who you want to be with. Only you can’t. Because you’re stuck. God damn stuck. And worst of all, being aware that there’s nothing you can do to change the situation. The now. Cause if you do, all hell might break loose. Things will break. Feelings will be hurt. Nothing will be the same again. Ever.

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I’m stuck. I’m suffocating. I’m in a hopeless state in which I have navigated myself. Passively but knowingly. Thinking that at some moment I will get out. Find the right exit. The one that sets me free. The one that allows me to re-start again. Reshuffle my cards and start from scratch. But that is not really possible, is it? And if so, at what cost? And who bears the cost?

So I’m stuck in the middle of this life. My life. My self-built prison. With the knowing of where I would like to be. Who I would like to be. With. And I will not. Cause every step forwards, or backwards, or sidewards, will break things. Change the status quo. Will position me somewhere I’ve never been before. And I will have to learn to master an unknown situation. Will have to collect the damages. Collateral damages. Pay the price.

So I sip my drink and  wonder, all by myself. Is it worth it? Well, I know the answer. And while I smile to myself, I forget for a moment where I am. Stuck in a dream. A bad one.

Time to wake up.

 

(Image credits: http://basti-in-paris.blogspot.lu/2011/12/zugeparkt.html)

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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

# 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.

#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.

#impact assassination

Remember the times when you saw the potential in some projects you participated, or initiatives you saw being started. You imagined their potential impact and were so motivated that it made you feel good. Temporarily. All this, was before you came to realise that all the potential got drowned away by not allocating enough time and resources. By not paying enough attention. By not thinking it through, or worse, simply not going the extra mile.

Making an impact, going beyond the typical efforts, the ones to keep a status quo, is something we’re not used to do. As if we’ve been trained, thanks to a brilliant education system, to just work within our comfort zone. To not be creative. To not think outside boxes. At work for instance, often – or at least from time to time there are good ideas and projects that you know would move things forward. Given the right approach, leadership and effort. And some creative thinking. Very often however the result is mediocre.

But we can always find good aspects of the process – typically that we have learned a lot and became a bit wiser. And here, history repeats itself.. Result-wise it is more of a blur. Rather than moving forward it feels like you are constantly trapped in a circle. A vicious one. If you don’t make an extra effort, don’t go the extra mile, you’ll be stuck there forever.

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In the private sphere and at home there are projects too. And they are often derived from brilliant ideas on how to improve the practical infrastructure and logistics of our daily life. Building that shed in the garden. Re-arranging things, furniture. Changing some deeply rooted habits. Hanging those picture frames. Or, a bit of self-realisation like writing an unpretentious weekly blog post. Not to mention that lifelong project of writing a book..

The problem is – as it often is at work too – to keep a focus, and not get distracted by a whole range of things. The ones that get in our way and the ones we allow to get in our way. Optimism is good. Naivete is not really helpful. Allowing yourself to be naive makes you pay in the currency of disappointment and stress along the way.

So how to avoid the hiccups – while still setting some hairy but still reachable goals and managing to achieve them? How to leave your comfort zone? How do go the extra mile?

No easy answers. No silver bullets lined up. Other than getting your colleagues, boss, husband, kids – parents – friends – or whoever onboard – aligning your goals with the rest of the list of things that have to be done, every day and every week. Or simply getting them to encourage you come rain or come shine in your creative endeavours. All of this, irrespective of whether they, your dreams, projects, ideas are realistic or not.

 
Sometimes you just have to go against the tide. Or you change the direction of the stream. In any case, you have to follow your gut feeling every now and then. And work your ass off while doing so..

#the end is the beginning is (not) the end

If one door closes they say – another one opens for you. Not sure this is true all the time. Sometimes, the door that opens doesn’t look like one. It needs to become visible to us, it needs our open-mindedness to be seen. But the end of something usually implies the beginning of something else.

In most people’s lives-  friends, colleagues, habits and opportunities come and go. Sometimes it is sad and other times it is actually a relief. One puzzling question is what is the right balance between constants and changes? What is needed to rejuvenate our minds and brains and make us aware that we stood and lied for far too long in our comfort zone?

Do you rearrange your living-room just because you are bored? Do you get a new phone or even car because you would only like to be seen with the latest & greatest? Do you change your clothes constantly because you don’t want to wear the same thing again (and again)? Or do you take up a new hobby to get to learn new things and get new friends? Does change inevitably drain your energy or inspire you?

 

More life transitional changes – for example moving can take its toll on big and small family members.  But even if change can be difficult – it sometimes just needs to take place – and could often also be turned into a positive experience. Saying goodbye to your friends at school is not easy – and slipping comfortably into a new social group is equally challenging. As a parent it is important to let your children air any frustration and being the grown-up; try to highlight the upsides of the situation even if that is not always the most easy thing to do. Old friends can be visited – or come visit you. Improving one’s “getting-new-friends-skills” is also good. Those advices are valid for us adults too.

Changing jobs – especially in your forties – is a situation where it is beneficial that someone points out the upsides. At that age your acquired experience should manifest itself into some great creative task-solving, project leading or whatever ones line of business is. It is time to harvest. It’s time to shine. You have to show yourself – not only as someone with potential to rise to any needed occasion like in your twenties and thirties – but someone one expects to do the job. We both love Clay Christiansen’s hiring milkshakes example about understanding the job-to-be-done. Do we understand  the ‘job’? It is very easy to doubt one self. But change demands you to find the edge. And very often it is worthwhile – and you land on your feet. The process resembles the first time you open the maths book at the start of the semester; you cannot believe that you will understand what all the pages say. But after a few months you will. With ease.

Equilibrium can be truly hard to find. New experiences, new people often provide personal development. At the same time – it is sometimes good to hold on to things that are of value. Could it even be an aim to find comfort in your set ways. Strive to appreciate what you have at the moment and what you have achieved.

Some type of change is inevitable. Embrace it. If possible try to leave the old, the bad and the ugly stuff behind. But make sure to keep the good parts.  Maybe some spare ones too. You never know when you might need them..