Category Archives: Inspiration

A feeble attempt at describing a great experience

Let me start with the summary: last weekend was one of the best weekends I’ve ever had.

If you missed the last post and don’t feel like going back to it, I booked a ticket for the Old Vic Theatre’s 200th birthday party at the last minute, after finding out via Twitter that Tim Minchin was going to be part of the show.

For this special occasion The Old Vic replaced the chairs in the stalls with tables and chairs around them. I shared a table with four people who go to the Old Vic regularly. The lady on my right was a bad-ass lawyer who used to date a Dutch man, so we had plenty to talk about. The lady left of me also booked her ticket after she found out Tim would be performing. We were very close to the stage, they were great seats.

The evening started with chicken pie and a piece of the very fancy Old Vic cake, and it got even better after that. Literally every act was brilliant, the Old Vic celebrated this special birthday in style.

The Old Vice Bicentenary Variety Night program      The Old Vic birthday cake

Despite the energy and brilliance of the other acts there was a buzz when Tim came on. Or maybe that was just me. He played four songs. Two new ones that can already be found on Youtube (illegally, sorry), one old one (F# for the Tim fans reading this) and one that he just finished that day. It was special to see the songs being performed live and to hear a completely new song. I tried to take a sneaky photo of Tim performing, so that I wouldn’t forget what it was like, but I’m not good at being sneaky and the photo I took is further evidence of that.

Tim on stage

After the show I started to leave the theatre when I changed my mind. I decided I might as well try to get as much out of the weekend as possible and waited to see if I would be able to get a photo with Tim. He did eventually come out and as soon as I saw him there was already a line of other people waiting for their chance of a picture with him. I have no idea where they had been up until that point, it seemed like they appeared at the same time he did. He was very patient. I’d assume he would also have wanted to get to his friends and talk to them, but he took the time for everyone that wanted to talk to him. He didn’t rush at all.
I didn’t take a lot of his time, because that’s the type of person I am. On some level I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t talk to him for a bit longer. I’m sure he would have allowed it. But I’m also glad that I was (relatively) respectful of his time. I can’t imagine having to talk to a long line of strangers after a work day. I don’t think they would like me much..
I also got my picture. Some of my friends commented that it looks like we could be brother and sister and I like that idea.

Tim and me

To be honest, I’m only writing this because I promised in my previous post that I would. But I can’t write well enough to do it justice. It sounds too clinical or over the top.
I have a relatively quiet and drama-free life, I’m not used to the four-day adrenaline rush from last weekend. Nor am I used to admiring someone in the way that I admire Tim. And I can’t explain it. The music of Groundhog Day and Matilda is beautiful and funny and smart. The comedy is thought provoking and hilarious. The podcasts are the best company in rush hour traffic and are motivating in many different ways.
But the fact that I haven’t been able to convince any of my friends of the brilliance of Tim is a clear sign of my failure to communicate.

My inability to put my feelings into words can be frustrating. I want to be a good writer and I have a need to talk about what’s going on inside me. At times, when emotions are running high and I can’t create a coherent sentence quick enough, the feelings come out in tears, like steam from a kettle. Not a very practical format for sharing with a wider audience.

Anyway, I enjoyed being a bit audacious last week. It made me feel childish and grownup at the same time. And as my boldish moves were rewarded with great experiences I will try to take a bit more risk more often.

Out of character

It’s 6:30AM on a Saturday and I’ve just boarded a plane to London as I’m writing this. I was just in London for a long weekend a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t miss out on anything then that I’m rushing back for now. Instead I booked this trip at the very last minute on Wednesday after it was announced on Twitter that Tim Minchin will be playing at the celebration of the 200th birthday of The Old Vic theatre.

Those who know me, know that I’m normally not very impulsive and that I will generally choose whatever is most sensible. Also, I’m really not a morning person. It’s safe to say that this is all rather out of character for me.

Those who know me a bit better though, also know that I’m a huge Tim Minchin fan. Since I first learned about Tim through his Nine Life Lessons I think it’s safe to say that I’ve seen and heart everything that you can buy or find online.

I’ve never seen him live though and so here I am, about to hopefully change that.

I’m still not quite sure what made me decide to book a 36 hour trip for maybe 30 minutes of performance, but so far I still think it was the right decision. Even when my alarm went off at 4:30AM this morning I didn’t change my mind. I even feel very calm and relaxed now, but that might be due to the lack of sleep, as for the last few days I’ve alternated between being very excited and incredibly nervous for no good reason.

Since I started writing BA got me to London, I checked into the hotel and I’m now having a tea right across the theatre. I’ll spend the rest of the day at an exhibition about science and art, checking out the theatre’s street party and perhaps I’ll even go for a run.

Who knows, if it all works out and I enjoy being a tourist on my own I might even do it more often…

Expand your world, read a book!

I love reading, always have done. As a kid I used to devour books. If I was reading a book I liked, it would go with me everywhere. I’d be walking through the house, up and down stairs while reading, lay the table while reading and if my mum would have let me, I would have still been reading while we had dinner.

I was smart, shy and skinny, which meant I wasn’t one of the cool kids. I was dreaming about being naughty and audacious, but in reality, I was very disciplined and well behaved. When I was reading a book, I would feel completely immersed in the story. I would put myself in the shoes of one of the characters in the book and through them I would experience and do things that I wouldn’t think of doing in real life.
I can honestly say that reading these very diverse books made my childhood more fun. It allowed me to go on all sorts of adventures, understand what it might have been like to live in a different time or place and to see life through the eyes of someone else.

By experiencing life through the eyes of different people, reading also helped me to build empathy. I learned how different people (or characters) felt in different situations and how they all reacted differently to those situations. It helped me to realize how I would like to be treated and how I would like to try and treat others.
In the film “You’ve got mail” there is a beautiful quote about the impact that reading as a child might have.
“I started helping my mother after school here when I was six years old. And I used to watch her. And it wasn’t that she was just selling books, it was that she was helping people become whoever it was that they were going to turn out to be. Because when you read a book as a child it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”

I feel that as an adult, it’s still important to read regularly. Reading allows you to learn things about the world that we live in. It will also allow you to escape from it from time to time to experience a different type of life. It might make you forget about sorrows or humble you if you feel that you’re on top of the world. It allows you to expand your world and look beyond what is right in front of you. Reading will help you to continue to learn about anything that you are interested in and it will help you to grow as a person.

Like many “professionals”, I haven’t taken the time to read a lot over the last few years. Most of what I have been reading has been articles related to work. Since a few months now though I have made an effort to read (a lot) more. I’ve been reading fiction, as well as the newspaper and several books about different ways to manage my days and my time, and about approaches to leadership and different world views. I feel that all of this is contributing to me being a more informed and more balanced person and that it’s allowing me to learn and grow. On top of that, and perhaps most importantly, it is a lot of fun. I still love to read. I can highly recommend it.

Carl Sagan2

Be bold – set an example

I’m a “woman in technology” (apparently). You could argue that I have been since I was 15, when I started working as a light engineer. Thankfully I didn’t become aware that this was a thing until much later, when I was asked to do an interview about being one of the first in the world to achieve a particularly hard to obtain certification. It turned out that the interview was all about “what is it like as a woman in IT”. I was 29 at the time. It was the first time I felt just how much some other people looked at me as being “different”.
Recently I’ve been thinking about why I not only didn’t hesitate to get into technology, but why the fact that I would be one of few women was never an issue. Of course, this is all with the benefit of hindsight.

Growing up I was never a girly girl. I wasn’t interested in dolls, princesses, dressing up or make-up. My favorite things to do were building Lego villages (including an extensive train track), reading and playing sports. The one Barbie doll that I owned was always dressed in jogging pants and spent most of her time watching me read.

I was bullied in school between the ages of 10 and 14, because I was tall and skinny, too smart and unwilling to compromise on that, and very shy. When I started as a light engineer in school my confidence grew. I felt very much at home and I got a lot of support from the teachers who worked with the technical team. Being a light engineer at plays and concerts was a lot of fun and it turned out I was pretty decent at it.
Because I wanted to be a professional light engineer I went on to study Electrotechnical Engineering. I was the only woman in a group of 75 students, but I never really cared about that and as far as I could tell neither did my classmates. The ratio was about the same in physics in my year, but a lot better in the studies that focused more on business and a little less on technology. Of course, it’s hard to determine whether this is because girls don’t like hardcore technology, or whether they prefer to be around other girls.

During my studies, I changed my mind and instead of becoming a light engineer I started my own software company. At first with a group of fellow students. We taught ourselves to build websites that slowly got more sophisticated. After a while I moved on to building more complex applications and working on my own. When I got tired of my own solutions and company I took a job at local Microsoft partner, became an expert in a product called SharePoint, started to become involved in the community by co-running a user group, speaking at events, writing articles, a book and publishing a magazine. More recently I moved away from technology a bit and I’m now the Operations and Capability Lead of Avanade Netherlands, the company that I’ve worked for the last seven years. In this role my main responsibility is to ensure that our people are able to keep their skills up to date and that they continue to develop the skills that our customers are asking for (or that our customers need, but that’s a different conversation altogether). The best part about the role is that I get to play a role in helping our people grow.

None of the choices that I made were particularly logical and they definitely didn’t follow any stereotypical patterns. When I started creating websites, I was learning the technology as I went. When I took up my role as Operations and Capability Lead I didn’t know what it would entail exactly. With every step that I took it was fairly certain that I would be part of a female minority. Yet I’ve always had the confidence that I would be able to make things work out.

One of the things that gives me the confidence to follow my own path and make my own choices are the examples of the people in general and more specifically, women that I saw around me growing up.
When I was born my mum worked as a developer for IBM. At that time, it was even more unusual for a woman to work in technology than it is today. For us it was just her work though. My dad owned an insurance brokerage firm and worked a lot, so my mum took care of most things around the house. She also played several sports and coached my sports teams. Apart from lifting heavy things on her own, I’ve never heard her say that she needed my dad, or another man to get something done. She would take on whatever she needed to get things done. The same is true for several other women that I spend time with while I was a girl, like some of the babysitters we had, the volleyball and tennis coaches and trainers, and my math and economic teachers in high school.

Of course, I’ve been incredibly lucky to be born into a very supportive and relatively wealthy family and to have inherited some of the positive traits and intelligence from both my parents. This is not something I can take credit for. All I had to do was to grab the opportunities that were presented to me and to work hard to make the best of them.

Another important piece of the puzzle is that no one put any focus on the fact that my choices weren’t exactly mainstream choices for a girl until I was grown up. My parents never suggested that I should maybe play with dolls more. The teachers in high school never suggested that I might be better off with more alpha subjects, rather than the beta direction I had taken by choosing mathematics, physics and chemistry.

I feel that to make girls feel confident enough to follow their own path, we need to show them that they are empowered. That they can at the very least try anything they set their mind to. They need to see other women try things they have not done before, take a risk every now and then and be bold. As a woman you can choose to play any sport you like. Women can coach their kids’ sports team and they can be a referee if one is needed. They can paint a wall, drill a hole in a wall to put a painting up and put the trash out. Everyone in their lives should tell girls this. But as women we should also show it to them. Set an example. Don’t just tell them that they are empowered, but also show them that we feel empowered ourselves. I’m calling on all mums, aunts, grandma’s, big sisters, nanny’s and teachers to step out of your comfort zone if you have to and show your little girls that being a woman is not a limitation. That you are confident enough to try something new, that you can be friends with anyone you want to be friends with and being a girl means that you have a lot of opportunities.

I’m not suggesting that all of this will mean every girl will go into technology. All that I’m hoping is that it will make more girls feel empowered and less subconscious about choosing a direction that might not be the most common or logical one. For some this might mean going into technology, some might become a writer, or a musician and others might feel very strongly about becoming a teacher, a nurse, or a lawyer. It’s all good, as long as they feel free to make choices based on what they like and love, rather than based on what others might be expecting of them, or what’s the “safe” option that most girls are choosing.

Children learn more from what you are than what you teach

Flow – Our attitude towards work

In the book “Flow” written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, he explains about several experiments around flow at work and during leisure time.

People in a reasonably challenging job, like most of today’s “information workers” and managers at any level, indicate that they regularly experience flow at work. A lot of these people spend a lot of their own time on watching TV and report that they experience flow a lot less during leisure time. Yet when they very often indicate that they would rather be spending time in front of the TV, feeling low, than at work, being quite happy and in the flow. The main reason for this is that we feel that we didn’t choose to work and in many cases, we don’t get to choose what we do when at work. Where as in our spare time, we at least get to make the choice to be miserable in front of the TV ourselves.

I don’t have any problem believing the results of this experiment, but the outcome is of course remarkable. It suggests that we could feel a lot happier, if we would be able to look at work differently.
Today, for many people, work is something that has to be done to be able to afford living, but they feel that work is really just getting in the way of their life and the goals they want to achieve.

What if we could align some of our personal goals, with what we are doing at work?
How easy this is depends both on your goals and your job of course. But as an example:
One of my goals is to be more open towards other people and forge more meaningful connections. I can integrate this into my job, by making sure that go into conversations open-minded and that I stay in the moment when I’m talking to people at work, whether that’s customers or colleagues. This will give me a chance to work on my goal, and as a bonus will most likely also make the other person feel good about the conversation as well.

The good news is that, as humans, we have the ability to control how we look at the world around us and we can (learn to) control our reaction to it. So, the next time someone asks if I have fifteen minutes to talk them I can see this as an opportunity to grow and to get closer to my goal, rather than as yet another distraction from the task that I was trying to complete. I can not only change my response to the same situation, but I can also change how I feel about the situation. I would feel in control, rather than being overwhelmed and I would be happier.
Working hard for something we love is called passion
Do you have similar opportunities to work on a life goal while at work and feel more in control and happier because of it?

Focus to Succeed

Did you ever wonder what you could achieve if you could have complete focus on one thing for a significant period of time?

I was watching the documentary “Breaking2” tonight, about three athletes preparing to try and run a marathon in under 2 hours.  They spent two years preparing for it. Training daily with the other world class athletes. Eating, sleeping, drinking according to a rigorous schedule. Supported by their trainers and a team of scientists, who helped them determine how to optimally prepare. For two years.
It was a great watch, I can highly recommend it.
Oh and the fastest one finished in 2:00:25. He did something that was pretty much out of this world and still didn’t reach his goal.

The successful warrior is the average man

Afterwards I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be so focused on one thing for so long. Like most people my life contains a lot of variety. A significant part of it is spend on working. But in my spare time I like to play tennis, go rock climbing, plant shopping, running, spend time with my family, read, write and sometimes just sit on the sofa and watch TV. At several of these things I can perform a little above average (especially the shopping of course ;-p). Mostly because of my drive and determination. But I can’t imagine being able to focus on one of these things for more than a couple of hours.

Because the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, I do sometimes dream about being able to put a lot of focus on something physical for a couple of months in a row and see where that would get me. For instance, play a lot of tennis or do a lot of running. Just to feel what it would be like.
I expect that it will not only be very hard physically, but also mentally. To stay motivated and to give 100% for a long time to reach a specific goal requires immense discipline and perseverance. Where do you find the motivation to keep going day after day? What keeps these people going?

I have profound respect for professional athletes and I’m happy that they are able and willing to put in all this energy and focus. Through them we can experience what it’s like to push the boundaries of what’s humanly possible and to feel the euphoria when they succeed.

Bad habits are easy to acquire

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to acquire a bad habit?
And how hard is to keep up with a good habit?

I had been doing very well keeping an eye on my work-life balance over the summer. I was able to mostly stick to working during the day, and running, reading or fiddling about most evenings and weekends. However, with the start of our new fiscal year on September 1st and everyone coming back from holidays, things got very busy. To keep up I started working a couple of evenings again and a bit during a weekend.
It only took a couple of evenings before it felt normal again to work. Working even got in the way of writing blog posts.
Not working felt inappropriate and I had to make the conscious decision to stop the re-acquired bad habit.

Despite how easy it is to create the habit of working in the evenings, it is very hard to keep up with the habit of running or doing abs exercises at night. Even though after running and doing abs exercises I feel good. And after working all night I’m annoyed because I worked all night.

work is a rubber ball

I understand why it’s easier to eat candy and cookies than to always eat healthy, candy and cookies are yummy and it requires very little effort to get them (vs making a proper meal or peeling fruit). But why am I, and many of my friends and colleagues with me, so easily persuaded to work in the evening.

We are weird creatures…