Notes from one introvert to the World

Dear World,

Everything’s different and everything is the same at the moment. Everything and nothing has changed. Things are strange, and then not quite so. Confusing, isn’t it? The world has turned topsy-turvy, as some people (annoyingly say). I mean, topsy-turvy?!

Aside from going on long weekend walks through gardens or to museums, and the prospects of work or projects going from possibility to nothing faster than I can say topsy-turvy (!), life hasn’t changed much. I haven’t changed much. I still read, cook, eat, sleep, watch movies or binge-watch shows (oy, don’t judge). Aaaand, all of these activities occur with the same regularity: weekly meal planning accompanied by twice a week cooking; turning a book over in a few days; becoming human after two cups of coffee every morning. Of course, I’m not human nor humane before my two cups of coffee, but thank you for thinking I could be 🙂 Here’s to hope!

Things are okayish.
I miss seeing my family. I miss meeting with friends over meals and wine and coffee.
I miss travelling.
I don’t miss the networking, crowded places or events taking place at ungodly hours.
I often wonder if I’ll like other individuals more or less when I’ll be able to go out again and (pretend I) enjoy conversations in social interactions with people I don’t necessarily know on matters I don’t necessarily care about. Oh, please, don’t raise your eyebrow in contempt and tell me you haven’t once thought about all of this.

One thing’s for sure, though. I’m still an introvert. Which means that I’m mainly okay with the fact that I haven’t left my house for 65 days or so. It doesn’t, however, imply that somehow a miracle happened and I’m suddenly enjoying having zoom calls or phone conversations more often than I would have seen or talked to you, dear World, IRL before this happened, and it would be super crazy of you to assume otherwise. I’m not an ogre, far from it. I answer the phone, I check in with my friends and family and all that shebang. I’m here, and I listen, and I nod, and I’m sending good vibes and virtual hugs to my friends in need, and I can understand not everyone is comfortable with suddenly being locked in. What I can’t fully understand, and I’m trying to, is why some are so deeply uncomfortable with standing still; with seeing themselves; with looking at mirrors and trying to see what they’re about.

It’s a peculiar time, to say the least. Heh, do people actually say ‘peculiar’ out loud?! Anyhow, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t learnt 2 more languages, nor have I brushed up any skill whatsoever, except for that of baking cake (until I can get my eclairs and croissants’ fix again, homemade brownies and apple tart it is). I have, however, focused on the things I can control, in order to keep my sanity and its adjacent benefits. Things like the ones mentioned above – cooking, reading, listening to music and so on. I crowned myself the domestic queen of my household, and it’s working like a mother*ucker. Days are more or less the same, which makes it easy to confuse them. I’m letting go of time, so I won’t feel stuck. Instead, I’m giving myself space to be and allowing myself to stand still and be okay with that.

Looking within shouldn’t be a gruesome task. Trying to find some light and perhaps a silver lining is not impossible. Enjoying our own company should be a treat, really. If we don’t like and, dare I say, love ourselves, how can we expect others to do so? This is as good a time as any to be kind to ourselves, to give ourselves space to be and breathe and find hope in whatever it is that we can. And while we’re at it, perhaps we can also look at what type of conversations we have, and if there are ways to make them count. Should our convos reflect the fact that all days are the same or can we do better? Oh, yes, this includes convos with oneself, of course. I know we can do better, so let’s practice stillness and conjure honesty, inside and out.

Dear World, I hope you were good to yourself today, and kind to others.

Yours,

Andra

Don’t be yourself, be yourselves

I have a lot of ongoing conversations, with Frank, with myself, with my Muse, God, the Universe, as well as a whole bunch of other people. I also dream a lot, in a way that it doesn’t make any sense but somehow it all comes together later down the road. I’m doing my best to capture my dreams in writing; sometimes they’re so good I just bask in the thoughts or images until I lose them altogether.

People who see me, and don’t see through me, know that I’m a bit flower-power, and I’m an all-round dreamy optimist, despite my super-practical and rational approach. However, some people find that a bit too much to take, and most of the times, they try and put me in one box or another, as it seems impossible to occupy more than the box you’ve been assigned to.

I’ve noticed that people react strangely when we bring our selves to the table. I mean, you either have to be professional Debby or whinny Laura or badass Jeannie or expert Henriette. However, it’s a hard pill to swallow if you’re a subject matter expert, collecting yoga pants and inspirational candles, meat-lover, but against animal cruelty type of person. These things don’t seem to add up, so we only acknowledge bits of them, depending on the lens we have at hand.

When did it become mandatory to fit some standards, and why has it become so challenging to see people in their wholeness? When did norms become the norm? When did we build so many norms around how and what we should be/ behave/ consume etc and why is it hard to digest people with their everything?

It’s a bit of a weird situation as we fail to realise we take our professional selves home and we bring our personal selves to work. There’s no separation between the two, as hard as we try to make one. When we choose to see people through the one lens, I feel we unknowingly and yet somewhat willingly give up something, which is a real shame.

I’m no less guilty of trying to conform. I recently attended a job interview in which I tried to fit in or, better said, tried not to stand out. So, I dressed down, wearing a casual office attire in neutral colours, and I remember being really nervous and a bit agitated. You see, it’s quite challenging to sit still when you want to move, and I’m not talking about physical movement necessarily. The funny thing is, one of the other persons attending the meeting showed up with what seemed to be their fully colourful self, and I felt a twinge of envy as I fell short of showing up with my fully colourful self too. After this experience, I decided that, in the long run, I lose more by not being my flower-power colourful unicorn self.

Showing up with ourselves is best, and it leads to less confusion and more congruence within, as difficult as it may seem at first 😊

On creativity and play

For some peculiar reason, we’ve denied ourselves the space or time or willingness to be creative. It’s easier to say in a shoulders-shrugging manner, I don’t know or I’m not the creative type, really. I should know, I’ve done it myself plenty of times.

You see, when I was a kid, I used to write poetry and fantasise about happenings and people and my imagination could go pretty wild, and I remember having especially vivid and colourful dreams (I still do, thankfully). But then my mom kinda mocked me and because she was a grownup I so admired and looked up to, I stopped. Before we continue, no, there’s no villain to this story and my mom is pretty awesome, and yes, I probably overreacted by giving it up completely.

I let that moment define my creative flow for a good while until I realised, I’m opposing something I really shouldn’t. Plus, there’s not just one way of being creative – took me a bit to realise this. Whilst I might not have been a great poet at 7, I was limiting myself by putting my creativity in the very tiny and conforming box, i.e. if I can’t write poetry, I’m not creative.

Since then, I’ve experimented with theatre and acting, debate, calligraphy. I was extraordinarily mediocre at best; however, that’s beside the point. The point is that I’ve allowed myself to try and this led to wonderful experiences, including the magical discovery of Yo-Yo Ma’s music <3.

I’ve also come to realise that I’m a creative problem solver, I see connections between things that very few do, and that following my intuition and weird-connection-making can lead to insightful perspectives. And that’s being creative too, whoop!

I’ve learnt that creativity comes in all shapes and sizes, and it means much more than what we allow ourselves to think it does. And that we must give ourselves and others the space to be creative and to play, as from this point of curiosity and openness one can lead to great discoveries.

When we give ourselves permission to play, we give ourselves permission to experiment, to fail, to meander. So, let’s give ourselves permission to be creative, and remember that there are no rules, it’s all invented, and there’s a world of possibility awaiting 😉

Under Pressure with Andrew Summey

Have you ever met people that made you think ‘Oh, I really want us to talk more about x and y’? People you felt you have unfinished conversations with, even though you haven’t talked to them before; people whose work you’ve read and whose thinking strongly resonated.

Queue Andrew, human extraordinaire, always asking for two more sentences. Some of us just can’t be confined to boxes, so we ask for more. Here’s the funny thing – we take or occupy as much space as we allow ourselves to. And through his ever-going journey, Andrew has always looked for more, asked for more, and strived for better.

We touch on the metaphor of rowing, we speak about vulnerability and leadership and how the two go together, with a dash of rambling, giggles and swearing. And a whole lot of tension.

This conversation reminded me that we’re not alone in our struggles and that we’re all on a journey of some sort or another. That we can find solace in our journeys if we allow ourselves to look a different way than we usually do. Here’s our raw, recorded conversation for you, please give it a listen.

Under Pressure w/… Andrew Summey

We’re ending high, on a poem Andrew wrote.

Start

I kept planning
I kept seeking
I prepared more
I wanted a better view
To keep me in lieu
Why was I preparing
For the starting line?
For the planets to align?
When I had moseyed past
Friends cheering and clapping
My thoughts toward mapping
Then, I looked around
I had already begun
Now, it’s time to run!

P.S. Here is some of the stuff we mention:
# Daniel Bauer, awesome human and ruckus maker at Better Leaders, Better Schools
# U2 album, Zooropa, Jonny Cash track

Thanks for listening, tchuss!

Brave New Work, Aaron Dignan

I’ve recently finished reading A Dignan’s Brave New Work. It reminded me of F. Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations and it also reignited my hope. This book is well worth a couple of reads, as I’m positive you’ll find gold nuggets with every additional reading. Here are some of my notes 😊

# The thinking separated from the doing.

This sentence struck a chord. I mean, so many modern roles have thinking separated from the doing, it’s scary, really. And it might explain why people hate and leave the roles that involve this type of work. And it also might explain why folks in some of these roles just don’t care – about how they show up, whether they bring their best self to work or not, whether they show empathy or kindness. And it’s a real shame we have allowed work to dehumanize us and dictate how we show up.

# Bureaucracy is a hidden debt – an organizational debt – that we pay interest on every day. One of the most common sources of organizational debt is the knee-jerk reaction. Every time something goes wrong, we immediately jump to create a constraint that will prevent future mistakes. So, we institute a new role, rule or process.

I’ve noticed this happens more in medium to large organizations than in small ones. The latter ones seem to have more of an ‘improve, adapt, overcome’ mindset, whereas large ones don’t seem to have a space for mistakes or failures to happen

# The question that must be asked is ‘What would we do if we were starting with a blank sheet of paper?’ If the answer is anything else than what we’ve got, we have work to do.

This reminded me of the concept of sunk costs. I think we should ask ourselves this question in other areas of our lives too, not just in the workplace.

# We cannot do the best work of our lives under the auspices of an operating system that presumes our stupidity, our laziness and our untrustworthiness. When it comes to people, in many ways you get what you design for. Evolutionary Organizations know that if you treat people like mercenaries, they will become mercenaries. Treat them like all-stars and they will become all-stars. To be People Positive is to assume and expect the best of everyone.

I feel this idea goes hand in hand with the ‘thinking separated from the doing’ one. Yes, you do get what you design for. So, how do we make people aware of this? How do we build people up for success?

# Randomness and innovation are good friends.

This is music to my ears. Do we even give ourselves the space to think these days, and not fill every nook and cranny of our time with a podcast, a book, some sort of personal development activity and so on? We need to create space for thinking, for reflection, for idleness. Magic tends to happen in these exact moments.

On standards, alignment amongst teams and bringing change:

# The great thing about standards is that they show us a proven way to do something and they are reliable (for the most part). The problem with standards is that they undermine our ability to use our judgement, innovate, and learn. Instead of enforcing standards, think about proven tactics as defaults. Defaults are exactly like standards with one exception: you don’t have to use them. A default says: If you don’t know what you’re doing, do this. If you don’t have time to think, try it our way. But if you’ve achieved some level of mastery in an area and you see a better way, feel free. Let us all know how it goes, because either you’ll generate further proof that our default is sound, or you’ll sow the seeds for a new default that we can all benefit from.

# Concept of ‘loosely coupled but tightly aligned’ suggests that we maximize strategic alignment but minimize dependencies and red tape amongst teams.

# On transparency, apply the concept of ‘information symmetry’ – a condition in which all relevant information is known to all participants.

# Information in change: Increased transparency is critical in the early stages of transforming your OS, because it’s a prerequisite for making sound decisions. One of the most common mistakes is teams taking a swing at empowerment before ensuring transparency. What happens? People make decisions without the benefit of crucial information (about intent, strategy, customers etc), those decisions are subpar, and leadership goes, ‘See! People can’t be trusted to make decisions.’. Avoid this by focusing on sharing early and often. Make it safe. Make it habitual. When shared consciousness is high, everything else gets easier’.

And last, but not least, some useful reminders:

# Gratitude

Taking the time and being grateful and showing appreciation for our teams/ community works wonders. Make sure you practice gratitude on a regular basis <3

# We grow through resistance and discomfort.

# True performance – the kind we ultimately care about – is a team sport.

# In an increasingly complex world, plans are lies committed to paper.

# Resistance is an invitation to talk, listen, and learn.

# No easy answers exist. Just strong opinions loosely held.

# We raise the bar by seeing what is possible.

Dear Frank,

It’s been a while. I feel you’ve been more present since I’ve last written to you. Isn’t that strange? Is it the fact that I’ve been ignoring you the reason why you’ve tried to hijack so much of my attention?

I find this paragraph from Elizabeth Gilbert spot on, and then some. I doubt you’ll like it, but then again, this isn’t about giving you warm, fuzzy feelings, is it now?

Dearest fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently, your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do something interesting – and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So, by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive. E. Gilbert, Big Magic

It’s funny, because I’ve been meaning to share this with you for a while now, and somehow, I didn’t get round to it, until now. Food for thought, Frank, food for thought.

Until next time,

Andra

Andra & Andra or the story of how I met my sister from another mother (part II)

You’re all caught up now, and you know the behind the scenes story. Sort of. The thing is, there was a point in my life when I loved doing interviews, talking to people, asking odd questions and getting awesome answers. And at another point, I forgot how much I enjoy it all and it kind of got lost in translation. Thanks to the AltMBA experience (yeah, it’s an experience, not a programme ?), I realised I miss talking to people.

Normal, wonderful, generous, full of wisdom and cool stuff you-should-hear-from people. Here’s the thing – whilst it’s cool to hear podcasts or interviews with uber-famous dudes and dudettes, it can be difficult to put yourself in their shoes, or identify with their experiences, as sometimes they seem to live or come from a different realm. And I’ve met so many great, amazing folks so far, that I’ve lined them up for conversations and you’ll hear from them soon enough (watch this space!)

Andra Zaharia is an amazing human being, and it made sense my first podcast to be a conversation with her. Why you’ll ask. Well, she’s the reason I found the courage to apply for the AltMBA. And it felt like things are coming to a full circle when the thought of starting Under Pressure with her popped in my mind.

I was beyond nervous emailing her about the podcast, since it’s all invented, and there wasn’t/ isn’t a clear process here, I’m running on creative carbs. It’s an odd thing to read someone’s blog/ thoughts on a blog and feel like they’re your sister from another mother. And then talk and meet IRL and feel that’s not such an insane idea after all. I shared the raven story with her, she replied, said yes to my proposal, the rest is history <3 And a raw, recorded conversation for you, please give it a listen.

Under Pressure … w/ Andra Zaharia

Links to some of the stuff we mention:

Thanks for listening, tchuss!

Rebelling against the rebellion – a short story from a far-end dystopia

Here I am, waking up, and something doesn’t feel quite right. I’m still myself, but I feel somehow different. I feel I can see now. Which is a bit odd, as I thought I could see before too. I’m not exactly sure what’s happening. And I don’t have the time to find out, either. I need to show up for duty, my fellow ravens from the 1234aB Legion are waiting for me.

In case you missed the memo or haven’t seen the latest headlines, we’re fighting the Resistance. After discovering Footprints on the Moon, a bunch of luminaries decided that’s good enough for life to move on, and so they created the Ravenhold, a community for the rebels out there, the ones not fitting in, the ones fighting the status quo of Earth and its Corporations. Yes, Corporations have taken over and whilst we have quite a few ravens infiltrated, change is hard and it’s happening slowly. Or, rather, not fast enough.

The Ravenhold has its HQ on the moon, in the Linchpin Quarter. There’s also the Post Office quarter, alongside Prompts and Feedback quarters. We use them for training purposes, to make sure ravens know how to identify Resistance and can converse with it, playing along, before defeating it, thus causing Corporations a tiny bleed.

The approach here is similar to death by a thousand cuts, so we target individuals who feel different, and have the potential to become Ravens, after intensive training and multiple preparations. There are no tests, but you can smell an impostor a thousand miles off. What happens to them, you might wonder. Oh, well, let’s just say other ravens are not the nicest in their darkest moments. You see, each Raven has an internal fear reservoir, and they can check the levels (after all, we need to keep it in control) through the raven stamp on their left wrist. It’s a circle, and the raven on it darkens completely when it’s maxed out. And so, it needs emptying. I’ve noticed a circularity of sorts, and about 3% of the potential ravens fail to finish the instruction program. Which provides an opportunity for other ravens to empty out their fear tanks and become their best selves again.

Our master, Esgodin, is believed to be of utmost generosity and wisdom. He created the Ravenhold, and although he is more of a servant, in the background type of leader, we all feel his presence and we’re constantly moved by his leadership. He’s our daily inspirer and has written a number of books very popular among us, the ravens, but also among some Corporations folk. Hmm, this is a new thought, it never occurred to me before that his popularity is high among Corporations, too.

I remember seeing him, just last week, talking about the Resistance and how we need to see and be seen by others. I noticed a funny thing, though, a smirk of sorts on his face. I’ve never noticed that before. And his eyes lit a bit as if he acknowledged me observing that. Did I imagine it all?

 […]

Oh, no, Esgodin has been deceiving us. He wants the Earth just for himself, and his greatest wish is to replace the Corporations with Ravenholod. That’s why he moved to the moon so that new ravens won’t be able to notice his deepest, truest desire. How can I let others see this too? They’ll believe I’m mad, mad for even thinking this.

[…]

I’ve been made. He rambled through my thoughts and now he knows I know. Nooooo, noooo, don’t send me back to Earth, not Corporations, please, I beg of you. I know I can fly, and make it safely somewhere…Why does it feel like I’m falling, though?

P.S. This is a very vivid dream I had whilst going through the AltMBA, and I tried to put it on paper as accurate as possible. At the time, I was also reading Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children, so, somehow, it wasn’t a very surprising dream.