Better at…

… mistakes

We grow up being taught that mistakes are bad, and we get punished for them. Then we spend adulthood teaching ourselves that mistakes are good, and we can learn and grow from them. Isn’t this one of life’s beautiful-with-a-dash-of-sadness ironies? As kids, we says ‘yes’ wholeheartedly until one day something happens and we start being cautious. Then, if we’re lucky, we spend adulthood *acting as if* and hoping for the best; as such, we try and expand our universe of possibility, trying and failing and trying again.

Magic happens when we embrace these failures, the in-betweens, as wins. Because you either win or learn, which counts as winning too. Hindsight is useful to realise how much we’ve grown from our mistakes. The key here is being aware of ourselves, and making Resistance our friend. Mine is named Frank, and I’ve befriended Frank in ways I didn’t think was possible. Frank is a friend, not a foe.

Frank reminds me that trust breeds magic, and I’ve got to trust myself.

… saying no

We’re giving away our power by giving away our time. Boundaries: such a powerful word. Setting boundaries is quite the exercise: we’re setting boundaries for the outside world or better said, for the world outside of us; and we should set them for the world within too. I mean, how many times have you set about your day wanting to do one thing, only to have it hijacked?

Usually, we allow others to do that for various reasons. We shy from saying *no* because saying *no* means we’re bad people. And so we feel constricted to engage and respond, then and there. What or whom are you saying *no* to by saying *yes* to time thieves?

Once we become aware it doesn't have to be this way, and saying no is more than encouraged, a shift happens. Because by saying *no* to hijacks we say *yes* to ourselves. And doing this, repeatedly, helps us become aware of the power within. If you can defeat the 'no' monster, *what else* is there waiting for you to do?

Dear Frank,

Haven’t written to you in a while now. There’s no excuse, and please don’t think I’ve been ignoring you. On the contrary, I have been paying close attention to my fears and thoughts, listening and noting how I think and feel, how my body moves and where my mind goes.

Dearest Frank, as you well know by now, I’m learning to say ‘yes’ to possibility. I’m learning to say *yes* to myself, thus giving myself space and time and boundless opportunity. I’ve noticed there’s a fine line between that deep trust one feels in its capabilities and the confidence to work it all out, and the crippling fear that you’re just imagining it all, who are you to dream *this big* or aim *so high*?

And you want to know what I realised? They’re the different sides of the same coin, and self-confidence with a dash of humbleness and lots of curiosity works wonders. Doubt is good. Too much doubt is bad. And no one is going to dream big for or instead of yourself, so you might as well gamble on your power. Oh, what if you fall and bruise your…ego? Well, dust yourself up and off you go, try again, try harder, fail, learn, repeat endlessly.

Frank, I’m learning to have faith in the Universe and trust in my powers, and so far, the planets are aligning and my universe expanding. How do I keep myself accountable at a steady pace, you ask? Oh, no silver bullet here. I show up, do the work, dip, work, doubt, dip and so on, a perfect ebb and flow amounting to days and months, telling a story that makes so much sense, in hindsight.

Yours,

Andra

Being seen by others

Sometime this summer, I had this idea or need of an intimate meet-up, a combo of an accountability group and mastermind mash-up, delivered in an online setting and comprising of similar-in-view, yet different-in-perspective folks. I sat long and thought hard about who and what and when, because bringing people together is always a feat and a torment at the same time – it depends if it’s a responsibility or an opportunity; in this case, it’s a bit of both.

I’m a(n) (closeted) introvert, which can be translated as I can come across as exuberant and full of life in social settings, but deep down I’d rather curl up with a book and sit alone. So, I chose as carefully (read selfishly) as I could; my goal was to meet up regularly with these folks, run through what I’ve done or intend to do, have them challenge ideas or assumptions or plans, go, revise, redo, repeat. As I’m not as selfish as to meet up just so I can be listened to, this is reciprocated — we spend together some sweet 60 to 90 minutes quickly running through our work and offering feedback.

Some would argue that these bi-weekly meetups might be *too* short and sweet and not enough, to which I will say *au contraire*. Hear me out: when you use time as a constraint and hindsight + self-reflection as close friends, you manage to touch on the stuff that really interests you and get to the bottom of it succinctly, because you only share what you want, thus the others are fast in offering the mirrors with your blind spots. And so, the magic of a-ha occurs in such settings.

In one of our recent meetings, I realized that despite them not holding me accountable per se (I’m a rebel, even in my own stories), they help me a lot because I learn so much from the others. And another thing: there is no hiding. These meetings made me realize that there is no place to hide if you haven’t done the work. There is some sort of magic in being seen full stop. I mean, sure, I could pretend I was busy and fill my planner with stuff, but I would only be lying to myself. And it was super useful to voice these thoughts and flip this accountability story I was telling myself.

So, instead, I’m looking at how I’m spending my time and

a) jot down the things I want to achieve (because being realistic about having 24h in a day is crucial)

and

b) occupy my time with the stuff I thrive doing.

And you know what? Reading and coaching and working on a project may not seem like much, but they add up in the long term. Pages and hours and thoughts and tensions and belief in the work I’m doing are adding up, that compound interest is working in my favour, bit by bit every day.

Oh, and about the hiding: it’s cool to be with people who can help you become better without going down on a productivity shame route. It’s awesome for folks to take the time and be present and listen and see you. Just by doing these things, they contribute to your learning and growth.

I’m not hiding, it’s just great to be seen 🎉

Now, turning this mirror back to you, what if you look at how you *actually* spend your time, without making excuses or feeling bad? What if you add house chores and pampering on your to-do list, and mark them with as much satisfaction as any other task? And last, but not least, what if you flip your story of productivity and make it work for you, not against you?

Onwards & upwards 🔥

Read, read, read – a plea for reading

A few weeks ago, I came across a perspective with which I disagree profoundly. The premise was somewhere along the lines of ‘the lack of self-development is also caused by lack of reading, especially of specialized books; you might as well read twenty books of fiction a month, it’s for nothing if you don’t read many self-help books too.’ Boy, oh boy!

My plea here is one for the love of books and the action of reading. Please, read. Read anything, and do read (all sorts of) books.

(Fiction, Memoir, Biography) Books …

… enrich our lives and contribute to the vividness of our imaginations.
… expand our inner universe and help us relate.
… provide us with coping mechanisms and understanding of nuances.
… help us explore other worlds, some which we might never be able to physically come across, because of several (limiting) factors.

Read, please read!

Here’s the wonderful, deeply powerful thing about stories: we empathize with the characters, feel the relationship dynamics, and live the story. Stories serve us, they open our appetite for listening and widen our perspective. This openness will also help us take from the story what we need, and then put it aside or pass it forward. That’s where the magic happens.

My father died almost a decade ago. One of the ways I coped with his death the following year was by reading Dostoyevsky. I read most, if not all, of his novels. His writing helped me cope with pain and guilt, as well as provided me with a better understanding of family dynamics. In hindsight, his books were the catalyst for a long-winded journey of forgiveness. And it’s not just Dostoyevsky that I have learned a lot from; my list includes the likes John Steinbeck, Aldous Huxley, Nikos Kazantzakis, Neil Gaiman, Simone de Beauvoir, Ludmila Ulitzkaia, Amos Oz, Cheryl Strayed and so on.

All the great books I can think of are great stories. Oliver Sacks is a brilliant storyteller. So is Robert Sapolsky. Susan Cain tells us a story about the power of introverts. James Victore urges us to ‘feck perfuction’. Seth Godin encourages us to think about permission and acting ‘as if’ and being meaningfully specific. Frederic Laloux tells us a story about organizations and guides us into understanding how some work, and what the future might look like.

I am not against reading specialized books. I see their value and applaud their specificity. Just give other writings a chance too. Don’t pigeonhole a type of literature, you’d be pigeonholing your universe.

I have found that it’s my voracious reading of fiction that has helped me better understand concepts of philosophy and psychology and business that I might have had a difficult time grasping otherwise. Fiction both expands my world in terms of semantics and feeds my curiosity, sometimes throwing me towards specialized literature so that I can understand other concepts and delve deeper into notions I wish to pursue. At present, I’m keeping a balanced act of reading a fiction piece and a specialized one. I have noticed that too much specialized literature limits the vividness of my imagination and shatters my vocabulary. However, I have to admit, I never felt as if I had too much fiction.

Reading, like listening to music, provides me with numinous experiences; I feel that sometimes, the only way we can reach transcendence is through these media, as we seem bound to limiting ourselves by just being. Leave it to words and music to help us reach a higher state of beauty and an inner understanding of sorts.

Please, read.

Here there be dragons

Dragons, eh?! I bet there’s not one of us who wasn’t told or read a story about dragons when he/she was a wee child. What I think was most wonderful about these stories (my grandma used to tell me a lot of them!) is that they’re inevitably about courage or conquering your fears or pursuing something you want while having to overcome a lot of challenges on the way. Fret not, you’re not alone on your quest, as you have the help and support of a lot of well-intentioned people whom you serendipitously meet at just the right time (!), and somehow your motivation is stronger than any of the challenges you encounter.

The funny thing is that I never thought a lot about these stories when I was a kid, but they did always leave me with this sense of yes, anything is possible, just keep going. As I was reading Do More Great Work by MBS, where he uses this phrase in a chapter to make a point, I was flooded with memories of my grandma’s bedtime stories and all the other folk stories I’d read as a kid. And I marvelled at how many teachings one can find in these kids’ stories. But they’re not necessarily kids’ stories, are they?

We’re all on a quest of sorts, and we’re all dabbling some dragons of sorts. What strikes me is that we seem to have forgotten our ability to transform challenges into opportunities. I don’t know if you remember, but it’s all invented. And now is as good a time as any to call this to mind, and make the necessary shifts to accommodate yourself better.

Go on, check out those uncharted territories and face your dragons. Pro tip: one at a time, as you’ll want to rest and regroup. Start with the tiny dragons. Once you cross them off your list, you’ll notice how you become more and more powerful, and realise discipline is easy, fear is just another dragon (which just so happens to be spraying paralysing anxiety or thought over-drive, among other super-powers), and you can do this.

Here there be dragons no more.

Compound Coaching

Coaching is an amazing experience to go through. As a coachee, it allows you to experience the generosity of others. As a coach, it means adopting a posture of generosity and curiosity and serving.

Back in February (it’s July as I’m writing this), I had the pleasure of going through a coaching session with two incredibly generous Compound Coaching coaches, and that sole experience helped* me shape and efficiently manage the following six months. Here’s a recap-in-hindsight of that experience 🙂

Three challenges and opportunities that the session unveiled for me are:

# practicing accountability at a steady pace
# showing up with my best self day in and day out
# am I managing or juggling multiple endeavours?  

You see, exercises like these are the gift that keeps on giving. A way to turn the above challenges into opportunities is to learn/ start/ practice self-compassion; thus, I become that best-self by practicing, not by snapping my fingers. Easier said than done, won’t you agree?

Pressing pause. Ah, the ever so enticing but never used pause button. When pressing pause, there’s less of that beating-down narrative, as I’m pausing and becoming present, I also practice consciousness and I learn to check-in with myself.

What does self-compassionate Andra look like? is the million-dollar question. I have learnt the hard way, through burnout and disappointment and pain that I need to give myself time to be. Turning my fallibilities into super-powers, practicing self-compassion powers my drive and allows me to shift from being reactive to being aware. Ah, can you see this movement? What triggers us must be transformed into an opportunity for growth, as uncomfortable as that might be.

I did the best I could given the circumstances should become a whispering, soothing mantra for the over-achiever. Turning Am I enough? into How can I do better? is by no means an easy feat. It is, however, a deeply rewarding one. It is going through this change and practicing self-awareness that enable you to really notice things. The patterns that once triggered us can be used as tools to power us up; as one coach told me, there’s a time to be afraid and there’s a time to be hot-headed. And once you practice self-compassion, you learn to leave behind negative outsets and keep the positive ones. You learn to root for yourself.

There’s no one size fits all, so grab a bucket of patience and a lake of self-compassion and off you go! I’m rooting for you!

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*As the pandemic hit, I was forced to turn inwards as a means to an end, i.e. keeping my sanity and sense of usefulness. I gave myself space to be and time to think. I spent my time listening to those who needed a listening shoulder. I cooked, I read, and I listened to music, keeping my mind open and my heart wide open.