Don’t look back in anger

Don’t judge me, but I was watching Kung Fu Panda II last week and it put something back on my radar I felt I should write about.

Yes, I am saying Kong Ffu Panda inspired me to write a blog.

Maybe as something I’d like to ponder over a bit more, maybe as something to make you think. It’s really about perspective if you like. And maybe about a different perspective.

For those of you who haven’t watched the animated movie and those of you who never intend to watch an animated movie about a Panda who becomes a Kung Fu warrior, I’ll paint the picture.(Careful: spoilers ahead)

So, there’s this Panda, right, and he’s called Po. His dad is a Goose, called Mr. Ping. And then there is an evil Peacock, Lord Shen, who wants to rule the world. But a prophecy predicted he will be defeated by a black and white worrier. To make sure he’ll survive, he kills every Panda in the universe, bar one.

You guessed it: this is where Kong Fu panda Po comes in. While the story unfolds Po finds out Mr. Ping is not his real dad and his panda parents got killed by Lord Shen. In the end, taught by his Kong Fu teacher Master Chifu, Po learns to find “peace within” and uses that superpower to defeat Lord Shen.

The moral of the story: The past might have made you what you are today, but it doesn’t define your future. Accept your past, leave it in the past and move on.

I appreciate this is easier said than done, but there is so much truth to it. I mean, can you think of any example where dwelling on the past has ever helped you moving forward? And by this, I mean using the past as an excuse not to try something new, stop doing something that holds you back or is bad for you, or not to allow yourself to achieve something?

Do you ever find yourself thinking or saying: if it wasn’t for X (person, situation, circumstance) I would’ve been Y now? Sure, maybe that’s true. But is there anything you can change about that? No, because it’s in the past. It’s out of your ability to influence. Which in my opinion makes it useless to dwell on.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not denying your past might have been awfully hard, life hasn’t treated you fair or you’ve made mistakes that had a big impact.

I’m not trying to preach either. Who am I to tell you to get on with life? What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that when I consider it, there is really nothing in my past I want to use as an excuse to hold me back. Even taking it a bit broader: there is nothing in the past, in general, I want to use as an excuse to hold me back.

I don’t think I’ve fully mastered “being at peace” with everything in my past. I might hold a little grudge here and there, and sometimes I do think: “what if I would’ve…”, or “what if that wouldn’t have happened” even though I know it’s not very useful. Sometimes being aware of doing something is a good start of changing it for the better. Most of the time I do choose to focus on what is now, who I am now and what I want to be when I grow up and it suits me well.

Life happens. And whatever comes your way, it’s your decision how to deal with it.

I’ve seen the lady (Martine Wright) in the video below tell her story live and I thought her it was incredible and it really puts things in perspective. Just food for thought…

Inspirational read: Option B by Cheryll Sandberg

Falling leaves

You might have noticed we had an extra hour of weekend this weekend. You might have also noticed it’s getting dark at a ridiculous time (GMT 16.42 today). I certainly have. And for the first time in my life I noticed I was struggling a bit with it.  

While the management of my apartment building have just gone out of their way to put up Halloween decorations, my neighbours have decided to put up their Christmas tree on the 25th of October. Maybe my neighbours are struggling a bit too and are trying to get that festive ambiance in early to zhuzh life up.

Usually, I feel pretty ok with the perspective of long autumn walks, pretty autumn colours, hearty autumn food, cosy pub afternoons, rainy days lending themselves perfectly for curling up on the sofa with a cup of hot chocolate and a book, pumpkin spiced lattes, pretty lights everywhere and the endless activities that start to kick off in the run up to Christmas (Turned out to be a pretty uplifting exercise writing these pick-me-ups down by the way!).

I don’t think I need to spell out why things are different this year. Unfortunately, it looks like the social aspect of this season is cancelled. No festive drinks planned in my calendar and my first secret Santa that is booked is a virtual one. Yesterday it dawned on me it’s unlikely I’ll be spending Christmas with my family. 10 Days of quarantine on the way in and 14 days on the way back might be a bit much to not be able to meet up with the family for Christmas dinner anyway.  

I’m a pretty upbeat, happy go lucky person. I also appreciate I’m in an incredibly fortunate position and shouldn’t complain at all. But we’re all allowed to feel a bit sorry for ourselves from time to time. Nevertheless, if I’ve been taken aback by this sudden melancholic “shorter days, falling leaves” feeling, I can only imagine how people who are prone to be affected by falling leaves feel now.

As a manager, I’m also aware that I need to be careful with showcasing my mood. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be open and honest about how you feel, but you need to have a sense of awareness of how your mood could affect other people’s moods. You don’t want you feeling a tat miserable rubbing off on anyone else.

It made me think about how I want to deal with the next couple of months. How am I going to be keeping things light and have fun? How am I going to drag myself out of this potential spiral of negativity? As mentioned before: I believe you have a choice in how to deal with what life throws at you. And right now I choose not to be miserable and focus on positive things.

Apart from jotting down pick-me-ups, one of the things that keeps coming back on my path is the topic of hobbies. I’ve heard people saying that having a hobby made a massive difference while being in lock down. It gives you something to look forward to and get excited about. We’re working on an initiative at work to get people to share their hobbies and drive other people to get involved. I think it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Like a passion, a hobby might be something you feel is difficult to find if you haven’t thought about it before. On the other hand, there is no harm in trying a couple before finding anything that sticks.

I went down a rabbit hole yesterday with the pursuit of a new hobby plan. My friend texted me she was picking up “paint by numbers”. I got excited and considered doing the same. Went on Amazon to buy a “Paint by numbers van Gogh”, stumbled on a: “Paint by number your own photo”, forgot about attempting to reproduce van Gogh and decided to find a picture I would like to see converted into a painting. Spent hours scrolling through my pictures and came up with some plans on what to do with them that got me massively excited. Binned the “paint by numbers” plan, changed to “do something creative and artsy with my favourite pictures plan” (not changing them into a painting). First step: I’m going to have the picture featured in this post printed on acrylic glass. It might turn out to look like a very bad attempt at contemporary art, but the thought of it put a smile on my face instantly.

Long and short: Pick up a hobby that suits you. It might help you to turn your frown upside down (Apologies, I couldn’t help myself).

Falling leaves and short days make people do and feel strange things. Falling leaves and feeling isolated might make people do even stranger things. Let’s be aware, mindful, helpful and try to choose the positive way to deal with the lemons.

Don’t be a D***

One of the reasons I love my job is our company culture. Our former MD frequently quoted Mark Drucker by saying: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

When external people work with us or for us, we often get told what a great company we are. I’ve heard us being called “a bit PC”, but a great company with lovely, amazing, hardworking people.

So, what’s different, and what is it about this culture I love so much?

Well, when we’re in the office (Remember pre 2020, when people went to offices to work?), we hold the door for people (which means it can take some time to get anywhere during peak times). We don’t tell people to do stuff; we ask nicely. We say please and thank you. We come up with solutions; ways to make sure we can, instead of reasons to say we can’t. We learn never to get complacent. We focus on being inclusive and understanding. We get involved in charity and volunteering. And we make an effort to make work enjoyable and fun!

What we don’t do? We don’t throw people under the bus when things go wrong. We fix the issue and learn to do better next time. We don’t raise our voice at people. We don’t give people “an ear full” and we don’t use scare tactics.

When I started working for this company 3 years ago, I was anxiously waiting for the moment someone would shout at me. Or at anyone really. Or tell me “we could have a different conversation” if I didn’t get behind something that clashed with my moral values.  

That moment never came.  

I don’t even know why I consider this to be exceptional.

Well, actually, I do: Because I’ve experienced places, departments and projects where it was accepted to raise your voice at people or make them feel bad in any other way. I was used to having meetings in my calendar to be nervous about. Meetings of which I knew there was just no way of winning. We’d be shouted at whether we under- or overachieved (when we overachieved we’d been accused of sandbagging). I’ve been in situations where I saw grown men walking out of meetings crying. Not a one off: plural.

None of those places were nearly as successful as the one I’m working for now.

I believe shouting at people is the most stupid thing you can do, especially in any type of leadership position. Why would you? Only to vent your frustration? It sure doesn’t reflect well on you. You ‘ll seem out of control, out of your depth and you certainly won’t encourage the people you’re shouting at to do well or enjoy their job.  

People who are scared to make mistakes are likely to start making more mistakes. And when they do make mistakes, they’ll be scared to own up to their mistakes. That can lead to escalations and disasters that could have been prevented if you would’ve chosen to focus on solutioning instead of finger pointing and finding scapegoats.

I believe in treating people the way you like to be treated. I’m not saying you have to like everyone, or everybody needs to be your best friend. But it’s certainly a given that having good relationships will lead to people being more likely to be willing to do things for you.

So, my company might be “a bit PC”, but if it means we’re aiming to be kind, helpful and humble I’m happy to be sigend up for that. It also means people are much more likely to do things for each other and achieve great stuff together. Even in unprecedented times.

Saying please and thank you goes a long way. Being kind and making people feel appreciated goes a long way. And you know what, you can do all of that, especially when times are tough, and it doesn’t cost you a thing.

As a wise former CEO I know used to say: “Don’t be a D*ck”

Kindness might even benefit your own well being!

Niksen: Doing nothing seems to be the next hype

It was world mental health day on the 10th of October. Usually I’m not that on-topic, but my colleague sent me a link to a book: “Niksen: Embracing the Dutch art of doing nothing” that came out this month. She added: “Please help me get some Niksen in my life!!”  It made me snicker.

Apparently, “we, the Dutch” mastered the art of doing nothing. After the Danish “Hygge hype” and the Swedish “Lagom legacy”, Niksen is the newest trend in the battle against stress and anxiety.  

I wasn’t sure about taking this as an insult or a compliment. Have the Dutch just been called lazy? Or have we been praised for the ability to properly switch off?

After doing some research, it appears to be the latter.

Niksen is considered to be an effective method of stress management. It’s a little different than mindfulness. Where mindfulness encourages you to focus on being in the moment and not to worry about the past or the future, niksen allows your mind to wander or consider light topics (“what a pretty sunset”), or daydream for a bit. Niksen requires you to do nothing and have no purpose while doing it, such as staring out of the window; lying on a beach; curling up on the sofa and reading a magazine. Niksen can lead to decreased stress levels and increased creativity and problem soliving abilities. What’s not to like?

Niksen doesn’t mean you’re lazy, although the word has a bit of a negative connotation in the Netherlands. The Netherlands historically is a Calvinistic country and working hard is in our heritage. But we do know what we should do to switch off even though we might need to do a bit more of it. Niksen means you take time to allow yourself to do something (or actually: nothing) just for you, without any specific purpose. I think me and my friends might prefer to call it me-time.

Imagine tonight, you’d have an hour of me-time. You allow yourself to spend that hour doing something that has no purpose other than winding down. Not actively or consciously using any of your brain capacity. It instantly lifts your mood looking forward to that, doesn’t it?

For once, I seem to be an early adopter of a trend just based on my nationality. But does being Dutch really mean I’m automatically good at niksen? You might recall I mentioned one of my colleagues said I came across as someone who’s always keeping busy…

I think I’m pretty good at not massively overplanning my free time. I might also be good at intending to do nothing. However, the execution can be pretty poor: As a form of me-time, I might plan to take a nice long relaxing bath. I don’t like taking baths. I don’t have the patience to wait until it fills up, so I’ll get in while the water is too hot and the tap is still running. With a book. I’ll read three pages, get annoyed the book is getting soaked. Will start washing my hair instead. By the time the bath is full, I’m done. I guess taking a bath is not my ideal scenario when it comes to niksen.

Sometimes I move a comfy chair over to my floor-to-ceiling windows and promise myself to just enjoy the view for a bit. I do bring a book, my phone and my iPad… And after 10 minutes of staring out of the window I usually end up reading the news, finishing my book, watching something on Netflix or on a call with family or friends. But those 10 minutes do actually feel pretty good! (And so do the other 2 hours of me-time)

Niksen is not the easiest thing for many of us, especially in a world full of constant distractions and responsibilities. Niksen also shouldn’t replace a workout or a healthy diet, or doing anything else you need to get energised. But I would encourage you to give it a try. Even if it’s just 10 minutes.

Is niksen something you’d consider to de-stress? Or do you get nervous even thinking about it?

Some more articles on the topic:

Influencer

In a role with leadership responsibility the majority of things you say, don’t say and do or don’t do will be measured and weighed.

On top of that, people will form a perception of you. No exception. Sometimes, you might not even realise what that perception is and what you’ve done to prompt that perception.

Flipping it slightly: consider how critical you are towards the directors in your company making company announcements, sharing information in “all hands” meetings… You weigh and measure things those directors might have not even deemed to cause an issue when they prepared for the meeting (Which they meticulously tend do to make sure their messaging is spot on).

Consider the perception you have about your line manager, the Managing Director or CEO of the company you work for, influencers you might follow on Instagram, the founder of Microsoft, the Prime Minister, the President of America, the President of New Zealand… It might be really positive, or quite negative. But it’s likely to be strong.

As someone with leadership responsibilities (Don’t just think managers or world leaders: think teachers, parents, influencers) have you ever considered what the effect of your words and actions are? Have you realised that every action causes reaction? That you have the power to influence people?

Everything you say or do, or don’t do, can blow up, be taken out of proportion, can cause an unintended effect. Scary, right?

The more visible or influential you become, the stronger opinions will get; both positive and negative. It probably helps to develop a good sense of awareness of what you want to portray.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my reports told me they couldn’t understand where I found the time to do all the things I was doing with my life. He felt like I am never just doing my day job but always get involved in a million other things to keep me stretched and challenged. Inside as well as outside of work. He said he felt that I might expect the same of my reports or consider them to be lazy or inadequate if they didn’t have a similar approach to life.

My initial thought was: Why would he have that perception of me? I never feel like I read enough or am massively busy and I often consider other people to do many more useful things with their time. Also, I appreciate I have quite some more me-time available to spend than people who have caring responsibilities other than just themselves and their house plants.

Then I got a little shocked and worried. O dear, people take things from me and care what I think and consider changing their behaviour because of it!

Just because I like to do a lot of things at the same time, because I like to read management books and write blogs, it doesn’t mean I expect my reports to do the same! I’m not after copy-pasting myself into an army of duplicates! Do what works for you! And that’s not necessarily the same as what works for me!

It was a good eye opener though and it got me to reconsider influence and perception.

I believe that one of the most important aspects of leadership is understanding what your messaging does to other people. “Seek to understand”, in Covey speech. Put yourself in the shoes of people on the receiving part of your message. This applies to unconscious messaging, which might lead to unintentional perception, or conscious messaging, which should lead to some more deliberate effect.

I’m not saying you should be frantically worried about what people might think of you. I’m just suggesting you need to find a good balance. Be careful people don’t think their perception of you is the same as your expectation of them and be mindful and considerate about you messaging. Lead by example and treat other people they way you like to be treated. Just in case someone does go in to copy-paste mode… If you influence people, it better be in a positive way!

Oh, and you probably need to accept you can never please everyone. Good luck 😊

Reads:

How to make friends and influence people; Dale Carnegie

Never thought a video about firefighters would ever make an apprearance on this blog. Worth a watch!

Goals – Part 3: Why failing is ok

In my first post around goals I mentioned that when I think of goals to achieve, they always need to be massive. Therefore, setting goals tends to scare me. Somehow, if they aren’t big, they don’t count. I find it super hard to be proud of achieving little things (and I consider a lot of things to be little things, even if they might be pretty cool achievements). I am quite result oriented, I like to overachieve, and I like to get sh*t done. So why do I worry about setting goals so much then?

Because I don’t like to fail. I’m incredibly worried about failing.

Now that might be interesting to focus on a bit more. I’ve had my fair share of fails and even though I might have been devastated about it at the time, it usually turned out fine later down the line. If anything: failing has taught me to be more resilient. Then why is it still so ingrained in me to try and prevent failure at all times?

Because the feeling of failure sucks. I think a lot of you can agree with me on that.

When I promised my music teacher I’d play a piece at “keyboard recital evening” (please don’t judge) and didn’t practice enough so I had to ask if I could play a different piece instead halfway through it in front of 50 parents…it was embarrassing. When I flunked my last year of high school, I was in pieces and I still don’t like talking about it. When I failed my driving test, I was gutted. When I had to do my statistics exams over and over, I dreaded it. When I wasn’t allowed to proceed with my initial Master thesis, I was massively thrown. I still don’t like talking about that either. When I was rejected for traineeships and later, other jobs I set my heart on I wailed and sulked passionately. The list of my failings is longer than I care to share.

What really matters I guess, is that I got up and tried again. I did graduate, did get my driving license, I got my Master’s degree and ended up on a career path I’m really happy with.

Not failing because you never try would be something to worry about. Not learning from your failings would be something to worry about. But failing on its own is just an opportunity to learn, get up, try again and do better. 

I think it’s important to consider the implications of failing. What happens if you fail? Is it really that bad if you have to get up and try again? It might set you back a bit in time, but failing really very rarely is something you can’t overcome at a later moment in time.

How many people will remember your failure other than yourself? Often, it’s mainly you who will keep judging yourself on something you failed at a long time ago. And even if you do have people in your life who like to remind you of when you failed: It’s not really about them. It’s about you: your goals, your aspirations. Its about you trying until you succeed.

Interestingly enough, and a lot has been written and said about this, when we look at successful people, we don’t perceive them to be people who ever fail. Even though it’s probably the failing, the getting back up, not giving up, that got them to be as successful as they are. Their success came from resilience and persistence.

So I’m going to try and care a little less about failing and about what other people think, and a bit more about persisting and finding alternatives if at first I don’t succeed.

How do you feel about failing? How do you deal with failure? What has failing brought and taught you?

Thought this video was pretty good:

This video might be a bit corny, but it’s a good reminder to put things into perspective.

Reads that are on my to do list (I dislike failing so much, I couldn’t even get myself to read these books yet…but I will!):

How to fail – Elizabeth Day

Failing Forward – John C. Maxwell

Fail fast, fail often – Ryan Babineaux

Goals – Part 2: Passion

There is a lot to be read about finding your passion in combination with goals. Goals can be built around your passion. It’s more likely you’ll achieve them if you’re passionate about the cause.

“Nothing great in the world was accomplished without passion” according to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a German philosopher from the 18th century.

No pressure.

Coming from a country where the saying “Just act normal: you’ll be silly enough” is a thing; a mentality even, talking or thinking in terms of ‘passion’ is not something that was massively on the forefront of my mind.

When I started working with coaches, I did get asked the question. What is your passion? In more “Dutch” terms, toning the word ‘passion’ down a bit: What gets you excited: What makes you tick?

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s the US. If you read books from American writers and motivational speakers, they’ll be very generous with the word ‘passion’. Influential and motivating Americans love the term: Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robins, Eric Thomas, the late Maya Angelou. It seems to me Americans even use it in cases I wouldn’t exactly call something ‘a passion’ but more ‘a temporary obsession’.

It’s interesting how there is such a difference between these cultures really.  

When I bought some house plants during lock down, I got incredibly obsessed with how to care best for them. Would I call that a passion? Meh. I wouldn’t want to quit my job and become a florist because of it. So, I think I’ve decided not to class it as a passion.  

But, since all these successful people seem to be incredibly passionate about things, I figured I needed to find out what my passion was and embrace it.

For a very long time, I didn’t really know if I had a passion. I mean, I like things, but do I consider them to be my passion? I always enjoyed doing a bit of everything and never liked focussing just on one thing. It also means that I could do a lot of things reasonably well, but usually didn’t get to a point I’d excel forever.

Even if I was considered being “talented” at something, I just didn’t feel like focussing on just that one thing, because there were so many other fun things that had my attention. And if that thing I was considered to be “talented” at became too difficult or too much effort, I’d give up after a while and would focus on something else. Maybe, if I had been more passionate about just one thing, I would’ve been more motivated to keep getting better at it.    

When are you allowed to call something a passion? A passion sounds like such a big thing to have! It makes me think of people who have a passion for swimming and want to become an Olympic medallist. Or singing and want to become the next Lady Gaga. If thinking big like that makes you stop thinking about it at all, I would advise to make it a bit smaller.

This will sound silly, but for a big part, my Instagram account helped me understand what I’m passionate about. I’m not kidding. It’s called @whatevermakesmetick, just like this blog. I gave it that name because that’s exactly what my account ended up reflecting: things that get me excited. When I look at the pictures on my account, they genuinely make me happy.

I love walking, taking pictures, food and travel and reading and writing art, wine, being happy. Would I ever consider becoming a food critic, make a living out of travel, reading or writing, being happy? Would I like to learn more about art and wine? I do get excited thinking about those options. Do I make an effort to be happy? Yes! Would I therefore consider them being a passion? I just might.

I’m also lucky enough to love an awful lot of elements of my job; making sure people enjoy their work, making sure people get handed enough tools to develop themselves, cleaning up messes and improving processes and drive collaboration. Gradually I would like to do more of that: make more people enjoy their work, develop them to higher levels, cleaning up bigger messes and drive collaboration between more and bigger teams.

I think I found my fair share of things that make me tick or could even call my “passion”. Things I can build goals around and things that have kept me focussed on trying to learn more and get better at it for some time now.

How about you? Do you have a passion? Are you doing anything deliberate to find your passion? Or have you had a super clear passion for something since you were a child?

Here’s some more food for thought. I love this talk!

Good reads:

Grit: Angela Duckworth

Mindset: Dr. Carol S. Dweck

Goals – Part 1

During your whole life, you’ll be asked about your goals, explicitly or implicitly. What do you want to be when you grow up? 5 years from now? 10 years from now? What’s you’re ultimate ambition? What are your #lifegoals? If you look back at your life in your last days of your life, what do you want to be the achievements to look back on?

Inspirational quotes are often about having big goals; smashing those big goals; making dreams happen by turning them into goals. I’ve read a lot of books that state what sets successful people apart is their clear goals.

Goals can help give you direction. If you don’t have a direction you might end up going in circles.

So, here’s how things work in my brain: To be successful I should set myself some gigantic, life changing, impressive goals. Becoming CEO of Google, solve poverty, elimimate crime, save the rhino, the coral reefs, become a millionaire by age 40, establish world peace. Just to name some…

But what would be useful about setting huge goals that look like you’re set up to fail from the start? And what are the odds you’ll actually succeed? 

I don’t like to be disappointed if things don’t go to plan and I don’t like failing. Hence, I get a bit nervous about setting goals. You might relate to the feeling (Or not. In that case I envy you a bit).

So, here’s a light bulb moment that helps me put things in perspective (or just a gentle refresher): Set yourself goals that are realistic and you’re excited about reaching. Then consider what steps you need to take to get there and focus on the steps. In other words: make a plan. There is a big difference between a plan and goals. You need a plan to reach your goals. And if plan A doesn’t work, you can try plan B or C.

A goal can be “I want to lose weight, a stone (6 Kg) in the next 2 Months”. What’s your plan to lose weight? “In order for me to lose weight I need to exercise 3 times a week” or “In order for me to lose weight I need to follow diet X for 2 months”. Great, I believe I can achieve that.

See what I’m doing? The goal is made concrete or SMART, as people like to call it in business jargon: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic (or relevant) and Time bound.   

If instead I would’ve given myself the goal: “I need to lose 4 (24 Kg) stone in 3 Months. To accomplish that I will exercise 3 hours every day and will only eat 1200 calories per day” It’s specific, measurable and time based. But since it’s not very attainable or realistic, you’re very likely to set yourself up for failure from the start.

A goal can be anything: to walk 10k steps a day, to read at least 5 management books this year, to learn a new language, to choose to be mindful for the day, to be happy in life (yeah, sorry, the latter ones are a bit more difficult to quantify. But you can still consider a plan to be happy, or a plan on how to stay mindful).

If you’ve looked at attacking goals this way, it might be worth giving it a try.

I’m going to use this gentle nudge for myself while setting my personal development goals for the rest of our companies’ financial year.

How you deal with setting and achieving goals?  

I’ll be writing 2 more blogs around goals. Next week I’ll be writing a about building goals around your passion and about how to find your passion. And the week after I’ll address goals and fear of failure.

If you want to learn more about SMART goal setting, have a look at the below video I swear I didn’t watch the below video when I came up with the weight loss example!

The little things

This morning I was having a cup of coffee in the garden of my holiday address (read: my other half’s parents’ house), contemplating how this was not what I had in mind for my holiday. This is not South Africa, watching hippo’s while eating a copious breakfast, or Indonesia, staring at rice fields while indulging an amazing smoothie bowl…

I was sulking, while I sipped a lovely cup of coffee in a sunny quiet garden, listening to the sound of ruffling trees, chirping birds (and I don’t mean the loud city-pigeon type), the fountain in the small garden pond and had a magazine in my hands for some brainless reading. I also just finished breakfast consisting of all typical Dutch things I love and missed (ask me about “filet americain” next time we meet and I’ll try to explain the joy of “meat paste”) .

Oh, how life sucks…

Be it a coincidence, or the universe telling me to suck it up, I stumbled on an article about being happy with, and grateful for the little things in life in this magazine. I instantly felt bad about my attitude and promised myself to change it. Pronto.

It also made me consider how I approach life in general. I often catch myself being after the next adventure, the next challenge, the next thing that is even bigger and better then the last. Sometimes I forget to pause and reflect on what I have achieved, what I’m proud of or happy with right now.

On the other hand, I’m a person who can be very conciously enjoying the little things in life. I can be in awe of a tree or the sky or a scent. I can wake up being massively grateful for a good night sleep, my comfy bed and the thought of having a nice shower. I love a stroll and get incredibly excited about discovering a pretty street, a cosy café or a pretty shop. I do little dances of joy when I eat great food. And still, I can get thrown easily if something tiny doesn’t go the way I wanted or expected.

Why do I get myself into that mindset of being dissatisfied in a situation when there is so much to be grateful for?

Yes, normally, we would be exploring some exotic destination on the other side of the world. We’d be experiencing new cultures, food, views, nature. This year we’re using the time to see family and friends who we haven’t been able to see since Christmas. We’re staying in a place surrounded by nature: very different to the hustle and bustle of London city centre. It’s quiet and life is slower than back home. We’re not more than a 90 minute drive away from the sea, from hills, caves, dunes, castles, forests, rivers, historical towns, brilliant restaurants, theme parks, museums, spa’s and what not. And the sun is out!

I’ve decided to keep reminding myself of how lucky we are and be conciously grateful for the next couple of weeks. For the down time, for the small things we missed when not in the Netherlands, for spending time with loved ones and for spending time with ourselves, exploring bits of the Netherlands we don’t know that well.  I might have a moment if and when it starts raining again, but luckily enough, Netflix streams here too 😉

It’s all about the attitude and putting things in perspective. Maya Angelou said very wisely that you can’t choose what life throws at you, but you can choose how to deal with it. That applies to every aspect of your life and I try to live by that. I just forgot for a bit, while moping over first world problems.

Right now, it means I can choose not to act like a spoiled toddler and start enjoying my holiday.

I’m off exploring one of those forests now!

How do you put things in life in the right perspective? Do you ever consciously choose your attitude to what life throws at you?

Let’s talk about impostor syndrome.

Somehow, I’m back in the Netherlands and I’m being told my degree isn’t valid. It appears I never passed all my courses. I have to retake a huge number of exams next week. I haven’t followed any classes and I don’t have the study material either. I’ve been caught out. See, I wasn’t qualified to do the job I have now after all…I’m never going to pass these exams. What do I do now?

I wake up.

I have this recurring dream. It pops up every time I have a big challenge ahead of me at work. It’s not that I believe I’m bad at my job. It’s just that with every new challenge I’m being given, I wonder if this is where my capability ends. Is this the moment I’ve been promoted into incompetence? Is this where they find out they hired someone who’s not as capable as I made them believe?

While doing some research for our SWIB network (Supporting women in business) I found out that 70% of people, not just women; PEOPLE, suffer from impostor syndrome to some extent.

So many people I perceive as being very capable or very confident have shared stories with me on how they suffer from “The Syndrome”. Whenever I mention the term, I get an instant bulk of examples on when and how people experience it. Whether it is on customer calls, with presenting in front of big groups, applying for a job, being praised for being good at your job, or getting a promotion: it crops up.

It can be quite situational. If you experience a form of impostor syndrome, it doesn’t mean you have to feel it in every aspect of your life. For me, it mostly applies to the seniority level of my job. I cringe when I refer to “leadership” and “career advice” when writing blogs. Even though I’m responsible for a big group of people and I have some achievements under my belt that should convince me I don’t suck at my job and I deserve to be where I am. I feel awkward when being asked to mentor people. What do I have to offer that is going to help you in your career? I feel like I’m winging it half of the time! Oh, and then the blog: who am I to think I should be sharing my opinions on these subjects with you?

However, if you ask me to speak up in a big group of people or present to a big audience, I won’t bet an eyelid. I feel confident and comfortable in these situations. Seems pretty contradictory. Weird how your mind can play tricks on you, right?

Fortunately, feeling insecure has never held me back from trying or doing things anyway. I do believe that if you don’t address it, it can really get in your way and hold you back.

I’m no expert in dealing with impostor syndrome. From what I understand you can’t get rid of it, but you CAN learn to deal with it.

From my experience, talking to other people about it seems to be quite helpful. It shows you’re not alone. According to the stats, we live in a world full of self-acclaimed impostors!  

What is your experience with impostor syndrome? How do you deal with it? Does it hold you back?

If you’ve never heard of impostor iyndrome, the below Ted video explains it in a couple of minutes:

Valerie Young is an expert on the topic. She even has a website called impostorsyndrome.com

*for the language terrorists amongst us: Impostor or Imposter are both correct. The Latin root is impostorem, “impose upon or deceive.”

Books that might help you deal with imposter syndrome:

Feel the fear and do it anyway; Susan Jeffers

The Subtle art of not giving a f*ck; Mark Manson

You’re a Badass; Jen Sincero

Listen

Whenever someone tells me they think I’m a good listener, I take that as a massive compliment. People who know me are more likely to describe me as a talker. I’m the first one to admit I have good and bad days. But even though I like to talk, I love to listen just as much.

Listening is one of those skills that is highly underrated. It’s not always easy: It requires you to pay attention, be in the moment and concentrate and focus on the other person.

It’s interesting to realise that a lot of training in the workspace is focused on presentation skills and being heard; on talking. We are convinced you need to be a good speaker to become more influential or improve your leadership skills. We like to think that if we talk better, people listen better, and we’ll be heard. I’m not denying it helps to be eloquent, but have you ever considered that a big part of being heard has to do with the ability to listen?

Let me take a moment to make you realise how important listening is.

Do you recognise that feeling when you’re in a meeting or part of a conversation and you desperately want the opportunity to talk because you have an opinion on the subject? Do you also recognise that you stop listening and start focussing on the opportunity to talk and what you’ll say? You’re listening to respond instead of listening to understand. Your opportunity to chip in becomes much more important to you than whatever else is being said in that conversation until you’re allowed to share your thoughts.

Ah, there is your opportunity to speak up. And while you talk, people listen. Just like you did in the last 5 minutes when you were waiting for your turn to chip in, right?

Assuming quite some of us have found ourselves in a similar situation, it’s kind of worrying how ineffective a lot of conversations are. Let’s assume the majority of the people on that call are wired the same way you are: how effective was that conversation? What a waste of time!

Let’s look at it from a different angle.

Don’t you love it when someone brings up something you told them a while ago and asks you for an update on it? Especially if it’s someone who you don’t talk to on a regular basis? And do you catch yourself saying: I can’t believe you remembered that!

It’s a good feeling when someone shows interest and gives you attention. It might automatically motivate you to listen back (because how awkward is it when you can’t return the favour of asking after something they shared with you?).

Why is it considered exceptional to remember what someone tells you? Why are we surprised when we realise someone actually listened to what we shared with them? And what would happen if we would all make a more conscious effort to be better at listen to each other?

Although it all seems to be common sense, how often do you catch yourself being distracted in a meeting or conversation? I would like to challenge you to try and become a bit more concious of it. Then try to pull yourself back into active listening mode to give people the confidence they’re being heard.

The below video is a quick how-to guide on active listening:

Recommended reads:

You’re not Listening; Kate Murphy

How to win friends and influence people; Dale Carnegie

The Seven Habits of highly effective people (Habit 5); Stephen Covey

The balancing act that is called feedback

One of the first things I learned when I moved abroad was how differently feedback is provided and perceived in the Netherlands and the UK

In my second month of working in the UK, I made someone cry giving them feedback. I really didn’t understand what I had done to cause such an intense reaction. As most people, I don’t enjoy upsetting people, so it was clear to me I had to find out what had gone wrong.

Dutch people are perceived to be very direct and straight forward. We don’t tend to ask if it’s a good moment to share some feedback. We just give you the feedback when it suits us, and you’re expected to “take it like a man”. Sugar-coating is a word that doesn’t translate very well to Dutch.

I actually think it would be good for some Dutch people to learn from the Brits to act a bit less rude. I also think it would be good for some Brits to learn from the Dutch to be a bit more direct. 

Getting the feedback thing right is a balancing act. Not providing constructive feedback can put managers in quite some trouble down the line. You’re not giving people the opportunity to improve if you don’t share feedback. Providing too much critical feedback can have a demoralising effect.

How do you find the right balance? I hear you think.

What a lot of people forget most of the time, is putting yourself in the receiving party’s shoes. What would it do to you to get this type of feedback? How can you be more considerate about the message you’re delivering?

When you have feedback to share, always consider if it’s useful. If the only thing you do by criticising behaviour or work is hurt someone, it’s probably better to keep it to yourself. If you deliver feedback so someone can change or improve, it’s the right thing to do. Make sure to be concrete; have one or two examples ready to share to back up what you’re trying to bring across.

Somehow, I get asked to provide 360 feedback quite regularly now, even for people outside of my direct remit. I like to believe I have learned to be better if people actually ask for my opinion, right?

Receiving feedback is an interesting one too. My chimp can play up when I get feedback I don’t agree with or feel is unfair or unfunded. It’s hard to just take it in and not be defensive about it. My advice is to always try to take feedback on gracefully. Breathe, count to ten and maybe sleep on it. If you want to come back on it, do it when you’ve calmed down.

Sometimes feedback is reflective of what the person giving you the feedback is dealing with. Sometimes it’s perception. It’s always a good idea to sanity check with some other people if they recognise the feedback you’ve been given.

Remember it’s your choice what you do with feedback. Maybe you don’t recognise it at all. Maybe you recognise it, but you don’t feel the need to change. Maybe you don’t recognise it immediately, but it might make sense after pondering it over for a bit. Maybe you do recognise it and it’s a quick fix, or maybe it’s hard to change, but you’re willing to. It’s really up to you. Will changing the thing you were criticized on make you more effective? Then you’ll probably be better off taking it on the chin.

I’ve not even touched on positive feedback. Probably deserves a separate blog. For now I would say: if you have anything nice to say to someone, don’t hold back. It makes people happy and it doesn’t cost you a thing.  

How do you deal with feedback? Do you ever reflect on your behaviour? Have you ever changed anything on the back of feedback you received?

Here’s a quick video on the topic:

Recommended reads: The Chimp paradox and Radical Candor