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!

/

*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.

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 😉