Getting rid of the rooster

According to the Chinese calendar, we are currently wrapping up the year of the rooster.

Chinese zodiac rooster

I think following the Chinese calendar might be just what I need, considering the first few weeks of 2018 have been a little un-fun for me.

The first week was actually pretty OK. 2017 ended on a hopeful note, with my father recovering well from a stroke he had suffered in the late summer and my brother taking back control over his life by deciding to move back to where he grew up, in Ireland.

The idea was that he would re-connect with his younger self and the values he had been instilled with by his mother (we are step-siblings). It sounded like a good idea at the time and I was especially happy he was choosing where he wanted to go himself and going through all the motions (and paperwork) to make the move abroad possible.

Sadly, his addiction got the better of him quite quickly and quite heavily, causing him to be involved in an accident, probably caused by him (all though I’m not sure he sees it that way just yet). Any progress he had made in recent months was destroyed, and more, he has to face all sorts of financial, social and legal consequences. In short: stressful.

My brother called me a week or so after all this happened and confessed most of the story to me. He sounded angry, sad, disappointed and confused. Making excuses and simultaneously admitting and denying the one thing I have been waiting for him to say: I need help.

He asked me to not tell my parents about what had happened, but added “all though they expect me to fuck up anyway…”.

Drowning

Then, after not having heard from him for several days (and me not reaching out) an uncle of his called me and asked me how much I knew about my brother’s situation. After I told him what I knew, he asked when I had last heard from him, which turned out to be about the last time he had been in contact as well.

The additional info I got from his uncle: My brother had bought a crappy old car and told people around him he was heading back to the Netherlands to get professional help. The fact that he had not told anyone here that he was coming and the fact that nobody had heard from him in several days made all the alarms go off.

For the first time in my life I felt my heart quiver out of control, while sitting motionless on a chair. I sent him a message and went through every possible scenario. For about two hours, I thought my brother was probably dead….

brain puzzle

Even when he texted me back, my mind raced on. The reality of his re-existence suddenly felt more complicated than the momentary possibility that he might be gone forever. Needless to say, that realization made me feel horrible…

I felt guilty (which is one of my talents, I must admit).

  1. I felt guilty for feeling that nano-sliver of disappointment when he turned up.
  2. I felt guilty for not being able to run to his aid, but not really wanting to either.
  3. I felt guilty for forcing other (extremely sweet and good hearted) people to deal with him.
  4. I felt guilty for keeping it a secret from my parents.
  5. I felt guilty for telling my mother anyway, forcing her to lie to my dad and adding more things onto her list of things to lie awake over at night.
  6. I felt guilty for not offering up my house to my brother as a landing spot, when he let me know he might be coming back to the Netherlands.
  7. I felt guilty for implicitly asking my boyfriend to carry the load of my family drama.
  8. I felt guilty for hardly having the head space to listen to the answer to my “how was your day?”; especially when the answer was more complicated than “fine”.
  9. I felt guilty for emptying out my brain sewage on the laps of my favorite people in this world; people with so much empathy in their beautiful hearts that it is almost inevitable that my state of mind also affected them negatively.
  10. I felt guilty for losing control and not being able to fake it.

So, forget the Gregorian calendar. Enter Chinese year 4715! And the year of the dog is coming up. I like dogs. Dogs like me. I understand dogs. Dogs are fun. Dogs are goofy and bring out my inner clown (in a non psycho kind of way). This is good!

chinese zodiac dog 1

So, I’m gearing up my backpack for the adventures the year of the dog might throw at me and filling it with:

  • A compass, that points towards what is good for me.
  • My journal,
    • to be filled with small and frequent brain dumps, as to not fill up the brain buffer and empty out the cache.
    • to plan my life better and have (the possibility to create) more order in the chaos.
    • to keep the blog-juices flowing.
  • Scooby snacks, to keep myself and the dog smiling.
  • A lot of room for new experiences and lessons.

mindfuldog

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Odd Jobs #5 – phoney me

When I wrote my first “Odd Jobs”-blog in September 2015 I was just starting to settle in at the job I currently still work at and was still very much in the honey moon phase. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my job and am not planning on leaving any time soon, but things have changed since then, which is logical and good for my development (or so people keep telling me).

full-caterpillar-to-butterfly-transition

Looking back across my CV and the different jobs I’ve done, I see one big trend: the telephone. The odd one out in that sense, is my time at the notorious tax office (aka the most miserable you have ever seen me). And thinking about it now, I think I only said yes to that job because it involved no phonework whatsoever and I had decided I needed to take a big and conscious step away from call centery work if I wanted to move forward.

When I started taking my frustrations from work out on my favorite people, I changed my mind quickly and ran back to the first phone I could find.

My current job involves picking up the phone but is very un-callcenter-like in every other aspect. My previous work experience made this part of my job a walk in the park and very gradually shaped me into the company’s unofficial “phone coach”, as a surprisingly large group of people is either not very good at this or genuinely afraid of the ringing machine… Helping my co-workers find their telephone courage taught me several things:

  • Maybe, perhaps, probably, possibly, could and should are words that express doubt and avoiding them not only makes the person on the other end of the line feel more confident about the message you are communicating, but also has a positive backfire-effect on the person who speaks them.
  • “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer (when it is true) and is more helpful than offering a solution you are unsure about.
  • A sincere “I am sorry to hear that” is sometimes all that is needed.
  • Words are powerful things and should not be underestimated.
  • There are many ways to say “No”.

An interesting transformation I have seen happening in “newbies”, that I recognize now in myself as well, is the following:

  1. The beginning:
    Internal dialogue: So much new information, I will never get the hang of this!
    I feel unsure / hesitant / overwhelmed / Argh!
  2. One month later:
    Internal dialogue: Customers are not calling to make my life miserable and I actually know quite a bit!
    I feel more confident / proud / relieved.
  3. Getting the hang of it:
    Internal / external dialogue: “Yes, yes, no need to finish your sentence, I know what you want. Probably better than you do. Let me get into my flow and tell you everything I know so you can be on your way.” Next!
    I feel over-confident / impatient / repetitive / superior / judgmental.
  4. Slightly frustrated
    Internal dialogue: I’m quite sure I was giving customers the information they needed but now that I’ve been told to try a different approach I feel like an idiot.
    I feel insecure again. I feel like my words sound insincere and unnatural. I feel rebellious.
  5. Telephone zen
    Internal dialogue: First, I’m just going to listen….
    I feel relaxed / open minded / self-confident / ready

What I disliked about callcenter work:

  • most-important-call-center-metricsScripts.
  • Being evaluated using silly standards such as
    • Did you mention the client’s name the right amount of times?
    • Did you ask the client if there were any further questions (even when the client has clearly said he / she had no further questions)?
    • Did you say all the sentences in the right order?
    • Did you manage to keep your average conversation time under 3 minutes?
  • Strict break times.
  • Good hair days turning into bad hair days after constantly getting entangled with headphones.
  • The constant buzz of people talking around you, for 8 hours straight.
  • The unhealthy air / lighting.
  • The clear limit there often is to the amount of critical thinking that is tolerated.
  • Crappy tea (and apparently also bad coffee, but that doesn’t affect me)
  • The fact that I can’t pick up my own phone without automatically mentioning my employer’s name as well.

What makes my current employer different:

  • No real script, apart from the greeting when you pick up. The rest of the “script” consists of general pointers and tips (that by now have mostly been written by me).
  • Break time is very flexible (up to the point that many of us forget to take a proper one).
  • Relatively small budget, so pretty crappy phones & underlying technique.
  • It is encouraged to come up with alternative ways to do things and every idea will be looked into seriously. Disappointment when your plan disappears into the bin after one (or two) looks, is not really allowed though. You must be able to get yourself together quick and move on.
  • No evaluation (or none that I notice).

What I hope to master in time to come (or at some time in my life):

  • Time keeping
  • Making decision with “the bigger picture” in mind
  • Making a plan and sticking to it.

My final conclusion is that call center work is often seen as the bottom of the career food chain, and yes, any slacker could probably do it… but people that are really good at it need to know so much about so many things, starting out with empathy. I think that it every human being would work in customer care for a while and would really make an effort, the world might be just a little more friendly…

Flexing for charity

A charity get together I saw today on someone’s Facebook got my all bothered, despite its good intentions. The event that was being promoted was called “Pop up yoga for the refugees”… and that’s when my inner cynic took over the wheel.

By the way, have you watched the new animation film, Inside Out? I can hardly think about my feelings anymore without envisioning some little colored creature hopping around in my head’s control center.

Anyhow, I am trying to figure out what exactly bothers me so much about this. I think it’s a combination of things.

It’s because it is an activity that was born in the far east, that has now been appropriated by western hipsters. The fact that it is something I associate with well off health freaks, constantly on the edge of a burnout, plays a roll as well. It has a lot to do with the feelings I expressed in my blog on mindfulness, about a month ago.

It’s the fact that yoga, constructive as it may be in some people’s lives, is an activity I would categorize as a hobby. It’s not a basic need one can’t live without and I can just imagine it must seem so utterly futile to the people this yoga-charity aims to support.

think-positive-1It also leans on my anti-prayer sentiment, in the sense that I think they might actually think they are doing the world a favor by thinking happy thoughts…And I hate how cynical this makes me sound because I am really such an optimistic person and I honestly make a point of cheering on positive thinkers and shooing away the pessimists, but in this case I don’t seem to be able to do that…

And for some reason the fact that they named it “pop up yoga” just gives me itchy feelings all over… Haven’t really figured that one out yet, though…

mood happyI must admit I often give people who dislike my nasty opinions the finger (but I promise I do that purely in my mind, never actually in their faces), but in this case I don’t even really like me for disapproving of such a good initiative. Times are dire and there are way to many truly bitter and fearful haters and the open-minded-gang can use all the support they can get. So my conclusion is that I really want to back this idea up for the full 100%.

So, now that I have vented my self righteous ideas here, I can mellow the cynical fellow back down and guide him into the back of my mind, where he belongs, and hand the controller back to a better version of me.

Now if you would please excuse me, I believe I have a sun salutation to practice.

Smug in the now

In these crazy times many people are turning to Buddhism (or its derivatives) to find peace. I have never attended a yoga class or read any Buddhist teachings (unless the dozens of pretty quotes I see daily on social media count…) but I do appreciate the thoughts behind it.

Mindful quote 2For those of us who are not prepared to go all the way and declare ourselves true followers of the Buddha but do like our occasional yoga lesson and chew on superfoods every now and then, there is Mindfulness.

Again, I’m not sure if I ever got to the core of it, but what I have taken from leafing through the bestselling self-help books sold on every corner of any self-respecting town, is that it’s about breathing consciously, loving yourself, living in the now, valuing life and being positive.

I can do that! I like the idea of focusing on the present (and not only because I don’t want to think about that bill that just landed on my doormat). I appreciate the moon and the summer breeze and the song of the birds outside my window. I make sure to be kind to my neighbors and give the cashier an honest smile when I buy my hypothetical almond milk and goji berries, brief as this encounter may be.

However, I have come to the conclusion that I am not a big fan of the rest of the mindful clan. Actually, it is because of them that I have decided I am not mindful at all, just because I don’t want to be part of their little hypocritical, preachy little chanting circle.

harmony boy color

I must admit some of my anti-mindfulness feelings may have a dislike for the attitude of some of my ex-colleagues at its core. I have had this draft sitting on my dashboard for many months and knew I needed to get rid of some of my bitterness towards them before I could publish it. I switched jobs since then, which makes it easier for me to analyze it. I guess sometimes you need to not be in the now to be able to see something clearly. 😉

If I could explain to them now what it is exactly that bothered me, what would I say? Let’s make a list!

1) Privileged by unique knowledge

People that practice mindfulness (or other “live in the moment and love yourself”-ideologies) are told to be very self-aware. They analyze their breathing and how they feel in the presence of a certain energy. They get to know themselves better through meditation and self analysis. In the process of learning more about themselves they learn more about mankind in general, about emotions and reactions and feelings. I’m sure some of this is very valuable information that undoubtedly can reveal subconscious issues blocking someone’s growth.

However, sometimes people lose their mirror along the way and start applying their new found wisdom on those around them instead of themselves. This self righteousness is not only extremely irritating it is sometimes also wrong.

2) The over-analyzing whatever I am about to put in my mouth.

Mindful quote 5I have this idea that as long as you feel good about what you are eating, it can’t be all that bad. Of course, I understand that eating purely deep-fried food is a bad idea. Luckily, that’s not something I would crave for anyhow. What I mean is that if you eat all the best vegan, raw, superduperfoods, nuts and seeds available and do this without actually liking its taste, and are craving for a donut while swallowing your quinoa-salad, eating becomes a punishment. I believe that you might as well eat that donut, firstly because stress is probably the worst thing you can do to your body and secondly because living 10 years longer thanks to your diet without ever again enjoying the ritual of eating seems like a pretty pointless extra decade…

Anyhow, here is a list of the things I have been condemned for eating / drinking:

  • meat
  • tuna
  • soy-milk
  • chocolate
  • vegetables / fruit grown the wrong way
  • a smoothy I bought (ergo, not made by my own hands)
  • unpeeled apples (because the peels contain gluten?!)

Especially when I heard that last comment I almost lost it… Dafack is wrong with you?!?! Where do I even start to explain how moronic you sound? Do me (and the world) a favor and go ahead and eat your apple whatever way you want to and just let me die of a gluten overdose, will you?? (hmm, sorry about that, it seems I haven’t gotten rid of all my bitterness after all…)

3) Quoting exotic luminaries

I wrote this point down a long time ago and I have to admit I can’t remember the exact occasion that triggered it but I can imagine how it went.

Let’s say I blew up in someone’s face after they expressed their concerns about me eating an apple with peel and all. The person I would be directing my words at would look at me, probably nodding but with a blank expression demonstrating their inability to process the information being thrown at them, and would then quote some guru to invalidate whatever I just said.

You know Sarublabla Yogi Nagchampa once said that being angry is a choice… And sometimes you might believe you are doing this consciously, but it’s really just a compulsion. If you practice this often you can learn to stand above your emotions and find inner peace…

… and then they might smile, in true belief they just did me a huge favor… Or perhaps follow it up by telling me my energy was messing with their aura, or something….

4) The eternal search for the deeper meaning for things.

As a sarcastic soul, it is hard for people in general to sometimes get me. But these self-aware spiritual types get their panties in a twist trying to grasp the deeper meaning behind my words. The beauty of sarcasm is that it is often pretty straight forward communication in a “what you see is what you get”-kind of way. There is no deeper meaning and if you feel you are being mocked, it’s because you probably are. It’s not meant to be hateful or mean and I am not being negative, on the contrary. I am actually having a lot of fun, but I must say your slow analysis of what is going on is kind of killing my buzz.

Sarcasm without the right audience feels like screaming into a black hole. It’s like saying you don’t believe in fairies (you know one dies somewhere on the planet when you say that, right?) and as if the joke was never made. Such a loss…

5) Avoiding life

This point is actually a very interesting one, in my opinion. I have discussions with my father about this quite often, as I believe his loyalty and dutifulness is killing him. He does things purely because he believes he ought to, because it’s what people are counting on or because it’s written on some decades old piece of paper. When I told him I thought he wasn’t doing a very good job at being happy he told me not to worry. He admitted there was a lot of nastiness in his life and that it affected him at times but that it was a load he could carry… Not exactly the response I hoped to hear and all though it’s in no way reassuring, I guess he’s a grown man and knows what he’s doing…

I put quite a high value on my own happiness and make decisions based on the belief that it will be better for me and my state of mind. I believe that when a situation gives you negativity and stress without the prospect of improving any time soon and there is no satisfaction or success for you in it prospect, you should remove yourself from this situation and go into self-protection mode. I am a great promoter of this and apply this to my career as well as my personal life. It works for me.

Now, back to the part that I DON’T like… I believe that there are people that, in the name of mindfulness, run away from challenges without ever giving it an honest try, out of fear for how the bad vibes might affect them. They shut down difficult conversations without ever even having had a discussion about it. They cocoon themselves in an incense scented world of herbal tea, relaxation music and mandalas.

Besides the fact that I don’t buy that fake smile for a minute, it isn’t right. Having a discussion can be healthy and productive, despite the annoyance and grey hairs that come with it. Avoiding confrontation all together just feels so odd to me, as you sometimes need some friction to bring out the beauty.

I also think people that choose this strategy are fooling themselves because avoidance just helps the fear build up inside and I don’t believe all the meditation and yoga in the world can help you get rid of it without confronting it head on.

6) Killing emotions

Last but not least, I want to say that feeling things is wonderful. Strong feelings like anger, fear and sadness are not all bad. If you eliminate them all together, how can you ever appreciate true joy again? I myself love a good fight and we all know the value of a good fright! Sadness, admittedly, is one I am not good at expressing and according to some it is something I should work on, as a good sob is supposedly extremely relieving as well.

So, what would Buddha say about all of this? Something like this:

Mindful quote 4

Ignorant inspiration

The other day I read a blog by Chelsea Fagan in Time about the unintentional hurtfulness that is sometimes caused by the inspirational quotes on traveling, freedom and making life choices. We all know them. I’ve probably liked and shared these images on Facebook on several occasions.

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After reading Chelsea’s blog and thinking on it a bit, I totally get how these quotes that are meant to be encouraging and empowering are really hypocritical, elitist and insulting.

The point that Chelsea makes is that we westerners have become very much obsessed with “being happy” and “following our dreams” and not letting our lives to be dictated by material desire, career ambitions or what society (or our parents) expect of us. We are oh so mindful.

What we forget when we proclaim our freedom in that way, is that we implicitly label people who do not travel somewhere new every year as boring conformists, uninspired souls or cowards. In all honesty I still believe there are people being held back in pursuing their dreams by the dogmas they have adopted or been implanted with. I have seen people living with regrets and unfulfilled dreams because they are convinced “it is not meant to be” and this is often not true.

However…… I do realize now that being able to drop all your responsibilities and “just go” is an enormous luxury that not everybody can permit themselves to have. I have grown up knowing (albeit mostly sub-consciously) that if I were ever to get into serious trouble (financially or otherwise) someone would be there to help me. It has never been necessary, luckily, which isn’t even really my merit either. I have the great advantage of having been born in a wealthy European country and having a matching passport to go with it. Finding work has never really been an issue (all though I may have thought so at some point).

I can permit myself to take chances and be adventurous because failure is also an acceptable outcome. I know this is not the case for many people. Failure could mean falling (deeper) into poverty, or as Chelsea describes:

Encouraging that person to “not worry about money,” or to “drop everything and follow their dreams,” demonstrates only a profound misunderstanding about what “worrying” actually means. What the condescending traveler means by “not worrying” is “not making it a priority, or giving it too much weight in your life,” because on some level they imagine you are choosing an extra dollar over an all-important Experience. But the “worrying” that is actually going on is the knowledge that you have no choice but to make money your priority, because if you don’t earn it — or decide to spend thousands of it on a trip to Southeast Asia to find yourself — you could easily be out on the streets. Implying that this is in any way a one-or-the-other choice for millions of Americans is as naive as it is degrading.

Another conclusion that I have come to is that travelling is not some sort of holy ingredient to find ultimate happiness or fulfillment. Quotes like the ones seen above imply that people that do not travel are “only reading one page” of the book of life and are condemning themselves to live nothing but the lethal routine of life. I realize now that there are many people that are simply content with their life as it is, and they don’t just say this because they don’t have the nerve to book that flight. Travelling would not make them happier.

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There are people whose world is big enough as it is and do not wish to expand it. Dealing with the surroundings they are familiar with is challenging enough. The idea of going out to explore new areas does not sound like an adventure but a nerve wracking experience. There are people that like their food prepared thew same way every day and have no urge at all to taste that odd looking fruit (let alone that insect).

Now it seems as if I am saying that everyone that does not travel has some sort of anxiety disorder, which isn’t my point. My point is that there are people that love to travel and people that don’t and they are both completely justified. Some enrich their lives with new smells and tastes. They learn new languages and meet people from different cultures. They come back with tons of pictures, dozens of new FB friends and a brutal tan. Good for them. Others enrich their lives with the comfort of a true home, with family and a loyal pack of friends. They learn to perfect their favorite meal and find pleasure in everyday life. How about the enjoyment of having sound roots and knowing where you stand in the bigger picture? How wonderful is it to build a place for yourself that gives comfort and happiness?

Some people don’t need to leave to be able to appreciate the joy of being home.