What is the new normal anyway?

Have you noticed how everyone seems to be talking about the new normal? It’s like it’s a new catchphrase that people slip into their conversations when talking about life after corona, or rather during corona since it obviously isn’t over yet. Not even for those of us living in countries where it almost feels like life is going back to ‘normal’.

I put ‘normal’ in quotation marks because what is really normal about the life we lived before corona anyway? Is it normal that mental health is higher than ever before mostly due to workplace stress and insecurity? Is it normal to spend so much time sitting still at your desk that you have chronic neck pain and you have to schedule time to just move? Is it normal to deplete the Earth of its resources in the name of prosperity? Okay, you catch my drift.

Well, what is the new normal then? We are in a situation where we still don’t know what is going to happen and how the next few months/years are going to look. During corona, the situation has constantly changed from one day to the next. There is so much we still don’t know about the virus and we don’t know whether there will be a second wave, or splotches of outbreaks, which seems to be what the experts are talking about at the moment.

Yes, a lot has happened since the outbreak, and we have had to reinvent the way we do countless things. Things that have previously been considered impossible are suddenly a necessity. Working remotely is an example. Other examples include consumer habits; we have cooked our own food more, as opposed to eating out. The staycation has become the new vacation.

And the environment has thanked us. We have seen reports of clear waters and starlit skies in cities where there have been none. However, although many of us, me included, hope for a lasting effect regarding this, a few weeks ago I read that the air in some Chinese cities is actually worse now after the lockdown has been lifted than it was before corona.

In a study conducted by YLE in Finland, about half of those who have been working remotely during the pandemic would like to continue doing so, at least sometimes, as they feel it increased their quality of life. According to a study conducted by KPMG, 64% of office workers and managers in the US have said that their quality of life improved thanks to the disruptive impact of COVID-19 (although it has been harder on managers).

But what does this really mean? Does it mean that we will take all our new insights and improve both the world and our lives?

Unfortunately this won’t happen by itself. It is simply too easy to just slip back into old habits and routines. Besides, I think a lot of people don’t want to change, but are rather just waiting to be able to go back to doing things in the ‘old normal’ way.

But seeing what the alternative could be, which many of us have done these past few months, is what makes change possible. So, I do hope we take what we have learned with us and implement the good stuff, I really do! But we have to do it consciously.

In the meantime, I think it’s a bit early to be talking about a new normal. Unless of course the new normal is that there is no normal. Yes, maybe that’s it. I mean what is normal anyway?

Racism

When I was working on my PhD, quite a few years ago by now, I read a book that made a deep impression on me: The Impossibility of Sex by psychoanalyst Susie Orbach. This was an important book for me in many ways, maybe mainly because I got ideas for how to interweave real people’s narratives with theory and debates in a way that really engages. Another thing that made an impression was Orbach’s open and unpretentious way of sharing her personal thoughts and feelings.

The book has really been quite groundbreaking, mainly because Orbach writes so openly about her work and experiences as a psychoanalyst. This is a rare treat. Doctor-client confidentiality makes it tricky, but Orbach solves that by creating fictive characters based on real-life experiences she has had during all her years as a therapist. None of the clients in her book are, in other words, real, but they are based on real situations.

However, gaining insights into the ongoings in a psychoanalyst’s office isn’t the only thing that makes the book so special. It’s also Orbach’s openness and candidness when it comes to her thoughts, feelings, and reactions in therapy situations. It’s quite unique, really. She’s so honest, open, and thoughtful about it. It’s powerful, but also helpful and valuable, not least to other therapists or those training to become therapists.

But that’s not actually what made such a great impression on me when I read the book. It was rather what she wrote about racism. When Orbach analyzed her reactions to different clients and situations, she at one point kicked herself for being racist. She had a client of a different ethnic background and skin color than herself, and she noticed that she was extra careful not to do or say anything that that would seem racist and to treat this person just as she would treat anyone else. I was baffled by this because I just couldn’t see how that was racist. Wasn’t that what she wasn’t?

Well, years later, I now think I know what she meant. The reason it was racist was that she was so conscious of the other person being of a different race, that she invariably ended up acting and treating the person differently anyway, Maybe she concerned that her client wasn’t perhaps getting the best possible care after all; at least not the care a white person would have gotten.

I have grown up abroad and gone to school with kids from all over the world. I have had friends with all possible different shades of skin color and I have never considered myself racist. I mean, how can I be racist since I don’t care where people come from or what they look like?

But the truth is, it isn’t that simple. The reason is that we aren’t just individuals, we are also all a part of our cultures and the social and societal structures that surround us. We are given values to live by as we grow up – sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly. Much of what we have learned and gotten, we aren’t even aware of. And even if we are aware of it, it isn’t something that is easily changed or unlearned.

I know this now. I also know that I can’t just say that I’m not racist. The reason is that racism is such an integrated part of what I have been given in my culture, even though it hasn’t been conscious or consciously racist.

We know that racism is ubiquitous, but still no one – or few anyway – consider themselves racist. We are not aware of it, or if we are, it’s very hard to admit because most of us don’t want to be racist.

But as long as we don’t see it or admit it, we are a part of the problem. Because as long as we don’t, we are part of maintaining the existing structures instead of building new ones. This is actually not only true for racism, but all questions pertaining to different aspects of equality. It feels uncomfortable to think that you can both believe in equality and be a part of the problem.

I recently read an excellent book that explains all this very well: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo.

DiAngelo is a sociologist. She has been a professor but now works as a diversity educator. She writes openly and disarmingly, without pointing fingers. She explains how our society is built on a racist foundation and how racism is integrated in the very structures that surround us. With us, she means us white people.

Racism of course exists elsewhere too, not just among white people, but this book is explicitly about white people’s racism and white supremacy. DiAngelo is able to explain, in a way that is easy to understand, that our actions and what we say can be unconsciously racist even though we don’t mean them to be. Most of us don’t want to be racist and consider ourselves good people, but also good people do and say unconsciously racist things just because we have grown up with racist principles and assumptions without even being aware of it.

If we realize that this isn’t about whether or not we are good people, but about societal structures that we need to learn to recognize and question, we can work with ourselves and learn to gain a greater understanding of these underlying processes without feeling wrongly accused. If we can assume that we are good people and that this isn’t about our character as individuals but about the society that surrounds us, we don’t have to feel uncomfortable or insulted when the word racism comes up. Only then can we have a constructive dialogue around racism and work for a more open and equal world.

Let’s do that! Oh, and please read DiAngelo’s book!

Ode to my Maple

There are so many things I could write about today that are related to my work and research. I mean, we are certainly living in extraordinary times. People and organizations have been forced to reinvent working routines and solutions in ways they never even considered before. For me this is, of course, fascinating because organizations that have, for example, said that working offsite is impossible or impractical have had to try it and now realize that maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all. For someone like me who has seen how one size fits all really isn’t the best solution – not everything works for everyone nor for all types of work – this is of course satisfying to see. Hopefully we’ll take some of the things we’ve learned during this pandemic with us and see more individualized solutions in the future.

And then there’s my book on men opting out, I could write about that. I could let you know that I have now basically completely the first draft of the manuscript, which is absolutely mind-blowing for me. It is something I have been working on for so long and now it is finally coming together. But I don’t feel like writing about that either. I want to write about the maple tree that stands in my garden.

These weeks of social distancing have, for me, meant slowing down. In a way it feels crazy that it’s only been a few weeks, it feels more like months. A lot has happened. I’m definitely one of the lucky ones. I live in a house with a garden, close to a forest where it is safe to be. I have work that I can do from home and I have teenagers who have managed their distance schooling very well. So apart from the anxiety of following all the horrendous news from around the world and worrying about the safety and health of loved ones, this social distancing thing really hasn’t been that bad for me.

One of the wonderful things I have experienced, thanks to the lockdown, is the spring. I am at home more than I’ve ever been before and I go out into the garden to just get out of the house and get some fresh air. I don’t have anywhere else to be so I take time taking everything in and I just love it. I have witnessed all the birds and flowers and trees come alive after the winter: cranes circling in big flocks over our house; more tiny spring flower than I have ever known existed, and the buds of our maple bursting open before my eyes.

I have always loved my maple. I can see some of its branches from my bedroom window and I often just lie there in my bed looking it at it as I contemplate whatever it is I’m thinking about at that particular time. I love it all year around; all the colors in the fall, the bare branches against the sky that are sometimes covered in snow or frost in the winder, the buds and the delicate, yellow flowers that bloom in spring, and the big leafy leaves that provide shade in the summer. This spring I noticed how beautiful the big, velvety, brown buds were for the first time; it felt weird that I hadn’t really noticed them before. On one particularly warm and sunny day last week, as I was standing under the tree admiring the millions of buds, they started bursting open before my eyes.

Because there are no airplanes in the sky at the moment and hardly any cars on the road, our garden is quiet. And as I was standing there, I could hear the tiny snapping sounds of the bud bursts, click click click click all around me in the air.

It was amazing. I feel honored to have been included in this beautiful event. Thank you, Maple!

Create, create, create!

I follow Elizabeth Gilbert on Instagram. You know who I mean, the author of best-sellers like Eat, Pray, Love. Although I have to admit I have never read Eat, Pray, Love, nor did I see the movie. But I have read a book by her titled The Last American Man. I have a beat-up copy that I bought at some flea market once when I was starting out on my research project on men opting out. At the time, I devoured any books about men I could get my hands on of any genre in order to gain insights into the strange and mysterious world of masculinities (I’m kidding about the strange and mysterious… sort of 😉 ).

Anyway, The Last American Man is a biography, or maybe rather an ethnographic account of the somewhat legendary Eustace Conway’s life and existence (no I hadn’t heard of him either until I read the book). And this might not sound like the most exciting read, but it was really an excellent book. The way Gilbert approached the whole situation and her style of writing was funny, entertaining, insightful, thoughtful and just so good. It was certainly a good read, and I became curious about this best-selling author that I of course knew of but who hadn’t really piqued my interest before. When things become hugely popular and everyone is talking about them and you’re constantly told that you have to read, see, try, do something, I get a little bit put off and then I just don’t. I know, I can’t really explain it, but there you go…

So after that, I stumbled across Gilbert’s Instagram account @elizabeth_gilbert_writer and I have to say, I really enjoy her posts. Again, what a funny, generous, positive, insightful and sensitive person. The other day she was interviewed live on Instagram, which I watched part of, and something she said just resonated with me. I can’t remember it exactly word for word, so I might get this wrong, but what it in essence was, was that we all have a natural drive – a need – to just create, create, create. Not just people, but also nature, nature of course creates too. It includes everything from creating life, creating order where there is none, creating art, creating beauty, creating meaning, creating connections, creating music… It’s what we do; we create, create, create.

I don’t know if I’m able to convey this in a way that makes any sense, but it just made such perfect sense to me as I was sitting there in my kitchen on a Sunday evening, preparing myself for another week of social distancing and distance schooling (my kids) and (what feels like) a million meals and absolutely maddening amounts of dirty dishes. Ironically, or perhaps not, this feels like one of the most creative periods of my life, which kind of sounds funny since I’m not painting nearly as much as I usually do.

About three weeks ago, like for so many others, my calendar was wiped clean. Everything I had planned, events, talks, silk painting courses, my exhibition… everything was either canceled or postponed. That is generally bad news for entrepreneurs (and I know there are so many entrepreneurs out there really struggling right now), but in a way it was a blessing in disguise, because I finally had the time and space I so badly needed to actually finish writing my book. And I am making great progress – I’m planning on having my first draft of my manuscript done by the end of April (I know can you believe it?! I barely can).

That is of course very creative to say the least. And I want to point out to those of you who were thinking you were going to work on that book you always dreamed of writing during the Corona lockdown but haven’t been able to get started: this isn’t that. There is so much to deal with both practically and emotionally during this time that just managing to get what has to be done from one day to another is more than enough. It really is, so don’t beat yourself up about it. This is my day job, what I am supposed to be doing but have been struggling with due to a lack of time. It’s not a dream I’m finally making happen (although in a way it’s that too, but that’s a long story).

But that’s just my book. I think for all of us, this is a time when we really have to be creative and do things differently, and I think people are rising to the occasion in a way they probably never thought they had in them.

I’m not doing the heroic work that health care workers are doing, or my kid’s teachers who are absolutely amazing. For me it has entailed being creative in the kitchen and cooking a variety of meals like never before. It has meant walks in my nearby forest, which have become so important to me. It has meant activities with my teens. And for the past couple of days it has meant sewing a whole bunch of face masks for family members who need them.* It has meant doing things I have never done before, and it has meant doing them in a way I have never done before. All of a sudden, I’m at home and I have time on my hands because I have nowhere to be. It means that I allow things to take the time they take. I do them slowly and perhaps not surprisingly, doing things slowly makes the process both more enjoyable and more meaningful.

As I sit here, and wait this situation out, I’m not dreaming of all the things I could be doing instead. I’m just here, and I create, create, create. I create so much that I have little creativity and energy left to paint. But that’s okay. My upcoming exhibition has been postponed, so I’ll have all the time in the world to do that once my book is written.

The point is, we all create, and whether you have been defined as a creative person or not has nothing to do with it. So, in that spirit, remember: create, create, create! And while you’re doing so, stay safe and well!

 

*If you want to make a face mask of your own, you will find a free pattern here: https://www.craftpassion.com/face-mask-sewing-pattern/

 

Notes from a writer’s desk

I’m happy to announce that I’ve been making a lot of progress on my book during the past few weeks. You know the book, the one I’ve been talking about for the past couple of years… if not more. It’s the one about men opting out. Yes, that’s still the one, and honestly, I’m getting a bit sick of talking about the fact that I’m still working on it. When people ask me what I’m doing and I mention that I’m working on my book, they often say, ‘Oh what book are you working on now?’ Then they seem genuinely surprised that it’s still the same book. And yes, IT’S STILL THE SAME BOOK!

To be fair, a book project takes a while, especially if you aren’t working on it full-time. Several years to write a book is not unusual at all (I admit, I’m partly also saying this for my own benefit…). Also, an academic book may take even longer because you have to weigh every word, look things up, find research and citations to support your statements, find other research that provides other perspectives for a more holistic understanding, and then again weigh every word so that you don’t misrepresent anything and by no means make any sweeping generalizations because reality really is more complicated than that… So it takes a while.

But now that I’m settled in my Art Place and things are happening on that front, I’ve given myself this spring to finish my manuscript and I have to say it’s a relief to finally be able to focus on my writing again. When I wasn’t able to focus, I started doubting myself. I started wondering whether I maybe didn’t have it in me to write another book. Maybe I was just a one-hit wonder…? Trying to write while not being able to focus for whatever reason just made the process frustrating, inefficient, and frankly quite depressing. But now I’ve made time and space for it, because let’s face it, I need to get on with my life, and I’m happy – no, actually I’m thrilled to report that I’ve started to enjoy the process again and I’m making progress. I can do this! I can write another book and I will!

I’ve started to look forward to the days when I can focus on writing again.

I’ve realized I still have thoughts and ideas that I want to get down.

I’ve realized being a woman and writing about masculinities isn’t as daunting as I thought it would be.

I’ve realized I still have things to say.

So, on that happy note, I’m going to sign off here. I was actually going to write this post about men, masculinities and the media, because that is what I have been working on today, but I’ll save that for next time. Stayed tuned because it’s fascinating stuff!

Until then, happy spring! (Although there is a blizzard outside my window at the moment. Now finally, when we don’t want it anymore, winter deigns to show up?!)

 

Lost in Socklot

You’re probably wondering what that means, ‘lost in Socklot’. I’ll tell you, but I have to backtrack a little first.

There is a small town on the coast of Finland where my grandparents used to live. I spent all my childhood Christmases in this town. I also spent other holidays there but the Christmas magic is what will forever stand out in my mind, because my family was especially good at creating magic. It of course helped that there was always snow, but it also involved things like carol-singing, home-made wool socks, and imaginary elf sightings as they rushed between homes in a terrible hurry to get everything done in time for Christmas. I remember the sweet, juicy mandarins my grandmother always kept in a bowl on the coffee table. Even the dog loved them and would appear in a flash the instant you pressed your thumb into the fruit to break the peel.

My grandparents passed away many years ago, but I go back once in a while and drive past their house, although not very often. However, this fall I found myself visiting twice in the span of just a month. Not only that, I went in a professional capacity – which was a first for me – and in a strange way it felt like things kind of came full circle. You see, as a little a girl, I dreamed of working in this small town when I grew up, although my dream involved the cash register of the local grocery store. Pushing all those buttons just seemed like so much fun.

Alas, there were no cash registers involved when the opportunity to go there for work arose. I went to give two talks, and while I was there, my cousin came up with the idea of exhibiting my paintings in her daughter’s wonderful café. Said and done; we set a date for the vernissage, and that was how I ended up spending a whirlwind weekend not just hanging an exhibition and hosting a vernissage in the same day, but also driving about 1000 km (back and forth, but never-the-less) to do so.

I never planned on doing it alone, but in the last minute something came up and there I was. I set out on a Saturday morning, drove by my Art Place to pick up my paintings, and then set out North, belting duets with Billy Joel as I drove to make the time pass more quickly. Fast forward to the afternoon, and I arrive at the café somewhat stiff, with a huge craving for coffee, lugging a bunch of silk paintings. Well it was a café so the coffee thing was easily fixed… but it was a café so it was also filled with café guests nursing their own coffees, and blocking the walls onto which I wanted to hang my paintings.

Those of you who are artists know just how difficult and stressful hanging an exhibition can be. There I sat among the guests and every time someone got up to leave, I pounced before my access to that particular section of the wall got blocked again by the next set of guests. Standing on tables and chairs, I hung a couple of paintings as quickly as possible and prayed I got it right on the first try and wouldn’t have to do it all again.

Eventually the paintings were hung – not perfectly but well enough – and I rushed to my hotel to change for the vernissage. The event in itself was a success, although somewhat exhausting for an extroverted introvert like me, especially considering I was hosting it all alone away from home. Plus, exhibiting your art is soul-baringly personal, clichéd as it may sound. But guests came and it was wonderful to see everyone, it really was.

After the vernissage, a lot of flowers, and many warm congratulatory hugs, I happily made my way back to my hotel to get a good night’s sleep before my long drive back. But I didn’t really sleep, not after all that excitement, so the next day, I woke up quite tired, albeit to a sparkly white winter wonderland.

After breakfast, I got back into my car and started driving towards a small village called Socklot to visit the painting studio of an artist I had had the pleasure of meeting during one of my talks. I was really looking forward to this visit and I had a fantastic time. We hit it off and spent a couple of hours looking at his work, discussing techniques, and talking about my work… He gave me two sketches, which I treasure dearly, and I left with a full heart and a terrible itch to paint.

I got back in my car again and finally headed home. I was in the countryside and assumed I would find my way back to the main road without too much trouble. However, being a bit of a city person who navigates with the help of city blocks and sidewalks, the country roads soon led my astray and before long I realized I was lost. Well, not really lost, I mean I have a GPS on my phone so I wasn’t worried. But I realized I had driven in the wrong direction and was now even further away from the main road, and my drive home was getting longer by the minute.

Just as I had this realization, my phone rang and it was my husband. I hit the green receiver button and declared, “I’m lost in Socklot.”

It all felt a bit like a Kaurismäki movie, but ‘lost in Socklot’ also kind of said it all. It sort of summed up my life for the past few months. I was in a good place, doing amazing things. I was quite tired and a little lost, but not really because I knew the general direction I wanted to go in, plus I had a GPS to help me navigate. So I was lost but not really.

And I have been doing amazing things for the past few months. I have been setting up the Art Place of my dreams. I have met with interesting people, made new friends, experienced so many firsts. I have been doing exactly what I want to be doing, although at the same time it has been overwhelming and exhausting, not to mention scary. I have been out of my comfort zone in more ways than I can count, but I can also say that I have been living my dream. Sometimes I’ve felt a bit lost, but in a safe way because I have experience to fall back on and supportive people around me. I know the general direction I want to go in and I’ve always had a map or GPS of sorts at hand.

Sometime in October I started to realize that I can’t do it all. For my own sanity and wellbeing, I needed to focus on what was really important and what I simply had to get done. For the first time in five years, I didn’t have the energy nor the inspiration to update my blog. From being a weekly column, it became a monthly thing, although now two months have already passed since my last post. I started writing a new post at least twice before Christmas to wish you all a happy holiday season, but I just never managed to finish it.

But that is life, right? We can’t always do it all and we have to be kind to ourselves. I wanted to give you a life sign though and let you know that I’m still here and that I’m not done blogging. The Opting Out Blog has been such an important part of my own opting out and in process, and a place where I not only write about my research but can also air my thoughts on other related topics. I believe I still have a lot left to say, and I will, although at the moment it may not be weekly or even bimonthly.

But I’ll keep you posted and I’ll keep posting, and I hope you will continue reading. Your comments and reactions still inspire me more than I can explain and I wish you all the best for the new year!

I would never say that

My research has gotten some media attention again this fall. I’m pleased of course; it feels great to get recognition for what you do, as well as confirmation that what you’re doing is important.

I also got quite a bit of exposure for my opting out research when I finished my PhD a few years ago. Then, I talked about women opting out, because that was what my PhD had been about, but now I can add men to the mix, and compare my research results. This is interesting of course, since my research is somewhat unique in that respect.

I’ve always thought giving interviews is fun. I mean what researcher doesn’t love talking about his or her research? However, taking the picture that goes with the interview has been a different story, because they always take a picture.

The picture used to give me a fair share anxiety, at least back in 2014 when I finished my PhD. On the morning of the days I would have an interview, I would carefully choose what to wear, diligently blow dry my hair and spend some extra time applying my makeup, which I don’t use a lot of. It was always a bit stressful, because honestly, what does one wear when one gets featured in the media?! On interview days, I kind of wished I had a stylist.

But not only that, it almost always rained or was both rainy and windy on the days I got interviewed. This was unfortunate because my hair, which I had carefully blow dried, would always get hopelessly frizzy. I would hold my umbrella as close to my head as possible and dart between buildings, hoping to save my hairdo (which those of you who have a tendency to get frizzy hair know is a lost cause).

I remember on days I didn’t have interviews, I took to walking in the rain without an umbrella and looked up at the clouds thinking bring in on! It felt so liberating to not have to care about how I looked.

Luckily, I have come a long way since then, and I kind of stopped caring. This time around I really don’t get as stressed about how I look. People don’t really notice a difference anyway.

But, of course, there are other things. Like before, I’ve had a very positive experience. Most of the time, the journalists who interview me will send me drafts of the article before publishing to check facts and that they don’t misrepresent me. I really appreciate that, because there are almost always things that they have misunderstood and that need correcting, things that are just factually wrong.

It’s funny though, because as a researcher, when I interview people, I always record the interview and then I transcribe it, so that if I quote someone, I am absolutely certain that I write exactly what they have said. This is important in research. It would be unethical and just bad practice to misrepresent someone or to put words in their mouth.

But I have noticed that journalists don’t generally record interviews. They take notes and then they write the article based on those notes. They quote me using quotation marks, even though in reality they are paraphrasing because what they put in the quotation marks isn’t exactly what I said, but rather what we have talked about. I know this because often I find myself supposedly having said something in a way I would never say it. But I try not to be too picky, and as long as it’s factually correct, I let it pass.

Besides, often a journalist will write about my topic in a different way than I usually do, and I find the new perspective refreshing and often it adds value. They mostly do great jobs.

However, sometimes they don’t send me a draft first, and the first time I see the article is when it is published. Reading through it for the first time, is always a tiny bit nerve-racking, because I’m doing it at the same time as uncountable others and I don’t really know what I will find. Most of the time it’s fine, but sometimes they get things wrong. And sometimes it’s not just some minor unimportant detail.

This happened in an interview last month that was featured in not one but two newspapers in Finland. The reporter had quoted me saying that Finland is a gender equal country.

Now you might not think this is a big deal, but I was reeling when I saw it. I would never say that; it is simply not true. Finland isn’t a gender equal country. Finland is considered one of the most gender equal countries in the world, that I know I said, but to say that gender equality has been reached in Finland is a lie. There continues to be structural inequalities between men and women and we certainly have a lot of work left to do regarding gender equality in Finland.

But it was upsetting also for another reason. I am, among other things, a gender scholar. One of the things I have worked for during the past few years, is to raise awareness about gender inequalities and to make Finnish organizations more gender equal. Having me declare that Finland is gender equal in a national newspaper, kind makes much of what I have been doing superfluous and irrelevant. It kind of undermines everything I stand for.

So no, Finland is not gender equal, and I would never suggest that it is.

Quality of life

I recently had the honor and pleasure of being a prereader of an amazing book that is yet to be published. I can’t really tell you very much about it and I won’t give anything away, but there was one thing in particular that I read that struck a chord with me and that I have thought about ever since. It is about being present in the moment and the effect that has on our wellbeing.

The thing is that life can get hectic. We’re pretty much expected to be all over the place at the same time all the time. Time accelerates and for many this can cause a feeling of life spinning out of control. In fact, research has shown that doing many things at the same time – everyday life for most of us – intensifies time to the point that we actually feel like we have less time. So, by doing many things at the same time, we’re actually not saving time, but maybe rather wasting it, or at least feeling like we’re running out of it.

Well, in this book I mentioned, I read about the importance of slowing down, being in the moment and noticing our surroundings. I know this is important; research tells us it not only calms us, but also helps us remember who we are and what we’re doing. It’s about allowing ourselves time for reflection (whether or not it’s done purposefully or just by being in the moment), which, in turn, helps us create coherent narratives about ourselves and our lives. And the ability to create these coherent narratives is essential for our wellbeing.

So, this passage really spoke to me, but not only because of the parallels in my research. I have actually also experienced this and it has made a great difference in my life.

I’ve always been one to notice interesting colors, shapes and patterns in my surroundings. I think it’s the artist in me. But for the longest time, I didn’t really allow myself the time to actually slow down enough to really see what was around me. I didn’t do this knowingly, I was just constantly on my way somewhere, always in a hurry because I felt I was needed where I wasn’t. I was always feeling guilty about never being in any one place enough at one time. I was never at work enough, never at home enough, never anywhere enough.

Well, when I started painting again a few years ago, I also started allowing myself the space to notice my surroundings for inspiration. Gradually I started seeing things more and more. The way the wind tickles the leaves of the trees. Or how the sun shines through those leaves on a sunny October day, making them look like a million sources of light. Or how they fall and land creating polka dotted paths for us to tread.

And you know what else I have noticed? The more I do this, the more I see the beauty that surrounds me everywhere I go. And the more I do that, the better I feel. It makes me feel happy inside. And it calms me, at least for the short moment in my hectic day when I stop and think, wow, look at that!

So, take that moment. Stop and admire what you see around you, even things that at first might strike you as ugly. Notice how interesting and intricate they may be. Maybe just a tiny detail. And carry that with you as you continue with your day.

Sometimes it is just that simple.

It’s personal

One thing I often hear when interviewing people about opting out, is that they didn’t really feel like they could be themselves in their previous jobs. There were aspects of their personalities and their lives that they felt they had to keep hidden. Children, care responsibilities, health issues, personality traits… just to name a few. This is one of the reasons they generally feel so good about the work solutions they opt in to instead. Many of them choose or create workplaces where they don’t have to keep these things hidden, which is one of the reasons they finally feel like they are exactly where they are meant to be. Why they experience such a profound feeling of authenticity.

I mean, how many times have we not heard, ‘it’s not personal, it’s just business’?

That seems to be some sort of a mantra in the business world; that and the idea that that which is personal needs to be kept separate from work. Well, I beg to differ. Work – like all aspects of our lives – is highly personal.

The reason it is personal is that we are people. Businesses are made up of people and we a come to work carrying our selves and our lives with us. Granted, we are often encouraged to leave all that at the door, which I think is actually part of the problem.

It is problematic on many levels. First, whatever is going on in our lives affects us and our performance, even when are encouraged not to talk about it at work. Of course it does. If we can talk about whatever is going on, whether it is positive or negative, if we can share that with colleagues (who we, by the way, spend most of our waking hours with), then we can also support each other at work. Not surprisingly, research has shown that this has a positive impact on performance.

But not only that, if we share whatever is going on with us at work, people will also know where we are coming from when we react in certain ways, which just makes it easier to communicate, collaborate and be understood. Knowing where the other one is coming from is key.

However, there is yet another aspect. I often talk about how I time and time again hear about how organizations are reluctant to give their employees control over where and how they work, because if they can’t see them, how do they know they are working? (Yes, this is true, I hear this all the time.) The problem is trust. If people say that, they simply don’t trust their employees enough. However, the better you know someone, the easier it is to trust them. So if we really get to know an employee, we can also feel confident knowing that they are working when they say they are, even though they aren’t in our line of sight. Communicating about work issues and about how it’s going also becomes easier, which again, makes it even easier to work together and to trust each other.

We have to get to know each other better at work, and when we do, it will change working life as we know it.

We have to be allowed to be whole human beings, not just employees. We have to want to know more about each other. We have to really talk to each other without being worried about opening a can of worms. If really getting to know someone means also hearing about the hard stuff, then so be it. As compassionate human beings we will know how to react. Besides, often it doesn’t even involve reacting, just listening, and we can all do that.

Monica Worline and Jane Dutton, the authors of Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power that Elevates People and Organizations, argue that compassion, which has always been considered a “soft” value, is anything but. It’s a strategic value, which organizations need to focus on to become truly successful:

”Compassion is an irreplaceable dimension of excellence for any organization that wants to make the most of its human capabilities…  Without compassion, workplaces can become powerful amplifiers of human suffering.”

All this is on my mind as I set up my Art Place. I want the place to be personal. I want it to look nothing like conference rooms business professionals are used to spending time in. I want it to look like me, and I want people to be struck by this when they walk through my door.

Since talking about work is highly personal, I want to invite people to talk about work in a space that is just that, personal. We are people, and people are personal, and once we can see that we can create more compassionate workplaces. We can create places where people don’t have to worry about not being able to be themselves, where personal isn’t considered the opposite of professional, and where people can thrive.

So let’s do it!

Reminding myself of who I am and what is important to me

It’s been a month since my last blog post. This is by far the longest break I’ve had between posts in the almost five years since I started this blog. There has just been a lot going on lately. You know, with The Art Place and all, on top of everything else.

You’d think I’d be used to change by now, I seem to do it so often. But it’s equally hard every time. Even when it is by my own doing, like it has been for me most of the time, it’s scary. I mean, even though we think we know, it’s like stepping out into the unknown.

When I first opted out ten years ago, I had a pretty major identity crisis. I went from being a consultant who at least had the illusion of control, to being an PhD student who knew nothing (or at least that’s how I felt). I had years of experience and knew how the business world worked. Then I became a PhD student and all of a sudden, I felt like a baby. I felt like I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how the system worked and I felt very insecure until I realized that even though I had stepped into a different world (and believe you me, the academic world really is very different from the business world), I still had valuable experience that I could draw on. I still knew a lot even though I wasn’t very well versed in all the isms everyone was talking about. But that was stuff I could learn and I did learn quickly.

This is actually something I see in my research again and again. How people who opt out experience not one but two crises. First the crisis – or light-bulb moment if you will – that gets them to take the step and make a change. Then the next crisis comes when they find themselves in the new situation that they have opted in to. It is because what we do becomes such a great part of our identities and when we jump into the unknown, we need to redefine who we are and create new narratives about the self and about what we do. That takes work, and it can be quite exhausting, even when it is a positive change.

Well now I am, once again, in the midst of another major change. It is completely of my own doing and I’ve been planning it for a long time. I’m setting out on my own, but keeping a foot in the academic world. I have started doing more work in the business world and, as I already mentioned, I have been there before so that isn’t completely new either. Still, the situation is and it’s daunting.

So, what do I do when I have a crisis, when everything feels new and scary and I struggle to remember who I am? I do things that remind me of that and of what is important to me. I paint, for example, or write a post for my blog. It feels familiar and makes me feel like me. And when I’m reminded of who I am, it becomes easier to meet the change again head on. It becomes easier to just keep going, keep going, keep going. Because that is what I intend to do.