Monthly Archives: February 2012

A perfect Day

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I recently came across a little life-planning exercise called “A perfect day”. The task seemed pretty easy at first: If you could imagine a perfect day, what would it look like ? How exactly would you spend each hour of the day? As I started thinking about it a little deeper, I soon realized: It’s not easy at all. Of course, a couple of things came to my mind immediately. But how in the world do you decide what a perfect day looks like when there are billions of possibilities? Of course, by that I hit the purpose of the exercise right in the heart. Thinking about a perfect day demands you to think about your priorities in life, about your passions and – just simply put – about what you really want. And this can be a pretty hard task.

The first thought I had when thinking about a perfect day was: It should contain some writing. It’s something I’ve been doing for ages and I do so on a regular basis – in my job and in my free time. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it. I’m also confident enough to think that I’ve developed some skill in it over time. So the next question was: What would I write about on a perfect day? I love telling stories about things I experience and observe – as you might have noticed. I have a thing for all the little stories that life writes and that a lot of people don’t seem to pay attention to in their busy lives. But would that suffice to make a perfect day? I saw myself sitting in an empty room, just me, my desk and my computer. And I realized: There needed to be more.

Then I tried to think back to any day in the past that I thought was perfect or at least close to that. On my way down Memory Lane I immediately came back to my time in Japan. My Mum once said to me when we were talking on the phone at that time: “You’ve never sounded happier!” And it’s true. I can whole-heartedly say that this was one of the happiest times of my life and I there aren’t many experiences that compare to it. But why was I so happy? I’d like to answer that with a little story (of course!):

One time I went on a solo trip to a little sea-side town. I was strolling through the streets, looking around, when I bumped into a little parade. People were carrying a beautiful float through the streets, chanting and shouting. I had seen parades like this before. They’re usually part of a religious festival. I wanted to find out where they were going, so I started to follow them. It didn’t take long until someone turned around and noticed me – a blonde, blue-eyed foreigner with her camera in hand. More and more people started to turn around to take a look at me. I hesitated for a moment. Then suddenly someone waved at me to come closer. I marched along with the parade for a while. And then something amazing happened. I was asked if I wanted to help carry the float! And hell, I did. The float was pretty heavy even though there were a lot of strong men carrying it. It kept bumping on my shoulder as I had difficulty walking in the right rhythm and it left a huge bruise. But it didn’t matter. I’ve never felt more alive and my heart was overflowing with emotions I can’t even put in words. So coming back to the perfect day: It would have to contain some travelling or any other way of making new cultural experiences and interacting with people that are different from me.

And there was a third thing that came to my mind while thinking about a perfect day: Music! It has always been an important part of my life, but I’ve just recently discovered how happy it actually makes me. There are songs that touch something deep inside of me and singing along to them is an incredibly freeing process and, by the way, a great way to let off some steam. I’ve been quite passionate about making music myself lately and I’ve even started to create some stuff of my own. Even though I’m just at the beginning and some people might think I’m too old to get started, I will definitely keep on exploring this further. As long as it is fun, I won’t stop.

So here I am with a vague impression of what a perfect day would look like. While the result isn’t quite satisfying, I’ve realized something. The reason I couldn’t name the one big thing I want to follow for the rest of my life is probably because my real passion isn’t that obvious. It’s to challenge myself over and over again. To put myself into unknown situations and to see where they will take me. I hope it will lead me to a lot of great experiences and who knows – maybe one day I will be a guitar-playing travel writer.

So what about you? What would a perfect day in your life look like?

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A Love Letter to the Earth

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When I think of Valentine’s Day one particular story comes to my mind. (Note: If you’re about to leave because you’re expecting a cheesy love story, be assured, it’s not!)
I was busy at work when the doorbell rang. One of my workmates opened the door and came back with a huge bunch of flowers. Being the only single at the office at the time (and ever since for that matter), I didn’t pay much attention to what was going on. I was sure one of the girl’s boyfriends must have sent them and in a few seconds everybody would gather around her screaming “awww” and “ooooh”. The girl would be almost in tears over having such a great boyfriend and soon everybody would share their very own heart-warming Valentine’s story.
But suddenly I noticed someone standing behind me. I turned around. There was my workmate wearing a big smile on her face.
“This is for you”, she said cheerfully, solemnly handing me the flowers.
“Are you sure?”, I asked insecurely. This coudldn’t be right. Who would send me flowers? Or anything at all? I didn’t have anything even close to a love interest. My ex-boyfriend had a new girlfriend. Was someone trying to mock me here? If so, I didn’t think it was funny.
Suddenly it was me who was surrounded by a giggling crowd of girls that were eagerly waiting for me to reveal the identity of my secret admirer.
“Open the envelope already”, they shouted while jumping up and down like little kids on Christmas Day.
I reached for the little envelope that was neatly placed in the middle of the flowers. When I opened it I had a weird feeling in my guts. The card read: “Happy Valentine’s Day. Love, Mum.”

I have never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day. And that’s not just because I haven’t had a significant other to buy overprized chocolate for in ages. I don’t like the pink hearts and red roses and happily-ever-after couples shoved in my face everywhere I go. And I especially don’t like the concept of having a particular day on which I have to express my love for someone. Because if I don’t, it’s not true love, man! Well, of course I get it. It’s a freaking money making machine – which makes me like it even less.

However, this Valentine’s Day is different. Because I accidently stumbled over something I feel is worth expressing my love to – even on Valentine’s Day. It’s a project called “Love Letter to the Earth” which is part of the Eradicating Ecocide campaign. It has the goal to make Ecocide (e. g. the destruction, damage and loss of ecosystems) a crime and have this law in place by the end of this year. People from all  over the world can support this cause by submitting Love Letters to our lovely planet which will then be published on the website and presented to world leaders in order to raise awareness. I think this is a great way to speak out for our planet that I care about and I’m sure you do, too. So I wrote this Love Letter to the Earth:

Dear Earth,

we’ve known each other for quite a while now. You’ve been my home for almost 30 years. You gave me the opportunity to roam your forests, rivers and corn fields when I was a kid. In summer, I probably spend more time with you than with my parents – building huts from branches we found on the ground, eating wild berries and taking a refreshing bath in the nearby creek. As I got older I realized that you had more to offer than this little childhold paradise of ours. You gave me the opportunity to explore the incredible beauty of your nature and it left me speechless more than once. I remember hiking through the rainforest in Queensland accompanied by the songs of colourful birds. I remember standing on the top of Mt. Fuji watching your beautiful sunrise coming up behind the horizon. I remember standing on a ferry in the Atlantic ocean watching humpback whales jumping out of the water right in front of me.

These memories will stick with me forever. They are part of our story together. And I don’t want this story to end anytime soon. I don’t want the precious gift of your existence to be exploited, damaged and destroyed. I want you to be healthy, so I can be healthy. I want my future kids to live happily on this planet. I want them to dig in dirt and swim in lakes without having to worry about health risks. I want them to witness the miracle of life on this planet in all its diversity. I want them to grow up in a world that cares about your well-being, because you are our past, our present and our future. We can’t live without you and there’s no substituting you. I promise I will do my best to take good care of you as long as I’m here. And I hope others will do so, too.

 

If you, too, want to send a message to the Earth, you can write your own Love Letter here.
Also check out Eradicating Ecocide’s website if you want to learn more about the campaign.

Please help out! The Earth needs all the love she can get.

I have never… sleep-trained myself

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Until last week my weekday mornings looked like this:
My alarm clock goes off at 6.40 am. I know that I still have plenty of time to get ready. The bus doesn’t leave until 7.50. So, really, there is pleeeenty of time. I hit the snooze button, turn around and fall asleep again immediately. 5 minutes (which actually feel like 5 seconds) later, the alarm goes off again. I hit the snooze button again. And again. And again. Until it’s 7.10 and suddenly there’s not plenty of them left anymore. I crawl out of bed, grab some clothes from my closet and rush into the bathroom. Now everything has to go very quickly. I shower. I get dressed. Sometimes I notice that I’ve forgotten to bring socks, so I rush back to the bed room with bare feet and almost slip on the way because I didn’t take the time to dry my feet properly. Next stop: Kitchen. I start the coffee machine and pack up my stuff for work while the brown liquid is pouring into my mug. I gulp down the coffee while trying to make myself look like a bright and shiny human being, the ocassional burned tongue included. I realize that I only have 5 minutes left, so I quickly brush my teeth. I put on my coat and shoes while simultaneously leaving the apartment. Yes, that’s actually possible! When I arrive at the front door, I curse my neighbours for always looking it. I’m in such a hurry that I miss the keyhole a couple of times as I try to open the door. With the first step outside my morning jog to the bus stop begins. There’s only a minute left. I make it in time. The bus doesn’t – as always.

I’ve been keeping up with this routine for more than 1 1/2 years. On good days I managed to skip a couple of snooze-sleep rounds which gave me a few more minutes. On bad days I decided that it’s ok to show up late for work and took the next bus. I used to be a person who likes having some time to herself  in the morning before leaving for a busy day at work. But since my way to work involves a 1 hour commute, sleep has become more important. I’ve always needed a lot of sleep to be a fully functional human being. Without an alarm clock I can sleep for 10 hours without waking up. And it has also always bugged me to waste a great deal of my life on sleeping. This has become more obvious than ever since I’m working on a lot of things in my free time for which I don’t feel I’m having enough time. That’s why I decided to change something about my sleeping behavior. So for the past week, I put my alarm clock on 6 instead of 6.40 am. Here’s what happened:

Day 1: I’m so excited about this experiment that I wake up at 5.30. I wish I could get up already, but I can’t. That’s the rules. So I turn around and fall asleep again. When the alarm clock goes off 30 minutes later, I start my usual snooze-sleep-snooze routine. I have plenty of time. I really do this time. I manage to get up at 6.30 which is still 10 minutes earlier than the time I’m usually waking up. It’s a good start. I take my time to pick my clothes. I take my time getting in the shower. I take my time at everything that I’m usually doing in a hurry. And it feels great! When I’m done I’m a little disappointed that there’s actually only 10 minutes left until I have to leave. Not enough time to really work on my projects. Instead I sort my laundry, so I can put it in the washing machine when I get back from work. I also double-check my bag for things I might have forgotten to take. Then I leave. It’s not a perfect start. But it’s a start.

Days 2 & 3: I spend the next two days feeling like a zombie. Getting up early is not the problem. Falling asleep is. When my eyes are open, I feel terribly tired. But as soon as I close them, I’m wide awake. Knowing that I have to get up early the next day doesn’t help with falling asleep either. I actually don’t spend more than 5 hours sleeping which definitely isn’t enough and leads to me going to bed earlier than usual. I feel like missing the point here. Plus, the sleep deprivation makes it hard to concentrate at work. I’m feeling tempted to give up on this. But I won’t. I’m in this.

Day 4: A breakthrough, finally! I manage to get a fair amount of sleep and feel refreshed and energized when the alarm goes off. When I’m done in the bathroom, I have an amazing timeslot of 30 minutes left. I spend them productively and when I leave the house there are already a couple of items crossed off of my To Do list. All day I’m walking around with a great feeling of satisfaction.

Day 5: It seems like my body has finally adjusted to my new routine. In the end it was just like overcoming a severe jetlag. So what is the result of this experiment? I’ve posted this piece you’re reading right now 2 days ahead of my usual schedule. I think that’s pretty great. I just hope my body will remember all of this when the alarm goes of at 6 am on Monday.

So what about you: Do you have any habits that annoy you? Have you ever tried to change them?

Rules for an incredibly ordinary life

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The cold winter wind bites my face as I leave the comforting warmth of a huge department store where I just spent hours rummaging through incredible bargains. I’m exhausted from flicking through huge piles of jeans, sweaters and shirts with red price tags on them screaming “buy me” and trying on dozens of pieces. I’m happy with my prey that is safely stored in a shiny bag and that I’m holding close to my body so it doesn’t get carried away by the oncoming traffic that swamps the pedestrian area.
“It’s amazing hwo many people are out here despite these arctic temperatures”, I think to myself as I make my way through the crowd. Even though I’ve only been outside for a couple of minutes, I can already feel my feet and fingers going numb – despite the wool socks, boots and fleece gloves I’m wearing. I feel like going to a quiet and cozy place and I know exactly where to find it.
Another breeze of warm air welcomes me as I open the doors, but this time it doesn’t smell of fabric and artificial colours. It smells of paper and wisdom. People are talking to each other in soft voices and there’s the occasional flicking of pages and the swooshing sound of books put back in shelves.
Now that I’ve bought something to decorate my body with I want to find something for my mind. So I start strolling through the different areas. I pick up some novels and read the summaries on the back, but I put them back on the pile one after the other. I’m not in the mood for a novel. I still have some at home waiting to be read. I’m looking for something different. I make my way to the travel section. I love reading travel guides. Even way before I’m even planning to visit the country I’m reading about. I love imagining what it would be like to visit all the places described and I love marking spots I’d like to see should I ever really go there. But then I remember that I just recently bought a guide book about Cambodia that I should read before buying any others. What else is there to explore in this huge book store? Children’s books? Well, not exactly my age group. Cooking? Not interested. Religion? Naaah.
I lean against the railing, indecisively. I hate leaving a place without getting what I want. If only I knew what I want. I look down and realize that there is a basement floor full of books. I rush to the escalator, full of excitement about what’s waiting for me down there. I stroll past the different shelves. There’s photography and IT and medicine and economy. I end up in front of a table with neatly arranged books. The one in the middle has the word ART printed in big orange letters on the cover. I take a closer look. “The Art of Non-Conformity” – now that sounds like something I might like. I pick it up.
“Oh yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for”, I think as I’ve finished reading the summary and head for the cashier with my new discovery in my hands. On the train on my way home, I start reading. I can’t help but nod in agreement with almost every sentence I read. The people around my must think I’m crazy. I don’t care.

Sometimes it’s weird how things find you exactly when you need them. Or you find them – whichever way you want to see it. For me, there have been quite a few of these stunning moments lately. When I was thinking about changing jobs I got an offer without even applying. And being in a strange phase of self-reflection and trying to figure out which way I want my life to turn from now on, I found this book. I only started to read it yesterday, but I’ve already had a couple of aha moments and found things I’d like to further explore about myself and my life. There’s one particular thing I read that I couldn’t get out of my mind ever since. Because I think I finally know what’s been bugging me all along. And it’s probably the underlying reason that put me where I am right now. It’s the will not to be ordinary, to do something with your life that will not only make you happy,  but others as well. And that will eventually leave a legacy, a bit of change in this world.
Now to be honest, I don’t really know what this kind of life is. I do have a clue, a slight picture of what it could be. But I’m willing to explore it in all its depth until I know exactly what it is. What I can start with is the exact opposite of what I want. Because I believe that knowing what you don’t want is the first step to knowing what you do want. So let’s take a look at some of the ways the author Chris Guillebeau lists for leading an average life -and how it compares to my (or your) life.

  • Don’t question authority. I think over the years I’ve become quite good at questioning authority, at least in my vicinity. If you consider my parents authority, I’m even a master at it. Just recently, my Mum said to me: “Talking to your sister is so much easier. She doesn’t always disagree or criticize.” Well, unlike me my sister has the ability to keep her thoughts to herself and do what she wants anyway. I however have to speak my mind and make clear why I see things differently. And there are a lot of things. I grew up in a small town neighbourhood where the words “We don’t do that” and “You’re not supposed to” were omnipresent. Of course, as a child I didn’t have any reason to question these “rules”. I was happy with the way things were. But today I can’t help but ask “Why?”. And I know the answer will just be “Because we don’t do that”. Because there is no real reason. In my job, I’ve also learned to stand up for my beliefs and opinions – no matter if it’s in front of my closest workmates or my boss. Because I can’t present something to a client that I’m not totally convinced of. And I’m glad that I’ve acquired a position in which I’m able to do so. So, I think I’m on a good way here. I just have to take it to the next level.
  • Think about starting your own business, but never do it. Ok, I have to admit that I’ve never really thought about starting a business. It’s just not something I strive for – unless you extend the term of business. What I could imagine is working freelance or starting a charity. I don’t necessarily think you have to start a business to lead a life that’s anything but ordinary. I think the bigger point here is not to be stuck in dreams, but to turn them into actions. And I’m working on that.
  • Sit at a desk 40 hours a week for an average of 10 hours of productive work. I do spent 40 hours and more a week at a desk, but in no way am I as unproductive as that. I would get fired if I was for that matter. In fact, there’s nothing I hate more than just sitting around doing nothing. I need to see that my work leads to something, that there’s a result. When I’m under pressure I turn into a machine. A working machine that produces without stopping. If you listen closely you can hear my brain rattling and it’s amazing what it can create when it wants to. It doesn’t even stop at night, so that I’ve found myself waking up with great solutions to unsolved problems in the middle of the night many times. The downside to this is that it only applies to phases of pressure. When I’m not pushed by a deadline or an incredible amount of work that needs to be done at the same time, my brain shuts itself off. It starts to run in circles and it takes me ages to finish even the easiest tasks. I also think this is the reason why I find it so hard to put all my great ideas into action. Because there’s noone there to push me but myself. I believe that I’m highly capable of motivating myself, but I need to find ways to actually keep me focused in the long run. It’s a process, but I’m sure I’ll get there.
  • Don’t stand out or draw attention to yourself. I definitely like attention. Who doesn’t? I like being noticed. I want my work to be recognized. I want it to be the best. And I want to be heard. Otherwise I wouldn’t have started this blog. I believe that I have something to say and that it might be of help for people who are in the same place I am. As I’ve mentioned in this blog before I didn’t always like attention. What I’ve always wanted though is to stand out. I’ve never been prone to group pressure. When everybody started drinking and partying their brain cells off, I was a non-alcoholic. I went to parties when I was in the mood for it and I had fun sipping on my coke while others were lying on the toilet in their own vomit. I smoked my first cigarette when I was 18, I have never taken any sorts of drugs (apart from alcohol), never even tried, and I was 20 when I had sex for the first time. Looking back I’m happy I did everything the way I did. Because I stuck to my beliefs and to what I thought was right – not to what the people around me defined as “cool” or something you had to do “because everybody does”. And I have done so ever since. Oh, and if you’ve ever seen me at karaoke you know that I love attention. A lot.

So what do we learn from this? I have tendencies to be ordinary, but I’m aware of them. And in some ways, my life is not ordinary at all. And then again, what is ordinary anyway? I think the most important thing about this is to know that I’m not satisfied (yet) with the way things are and that Im having the urge to change it. And hell, I will.

Note: If you’re interested to find out more about the book and it’s author, check out his website. I’m sure you’re going to read a lot more about my adventures with non-conformity here soon.