Choosing you

Theoretically almost everyone will agree that it’s important to take care of yourself. Which makes you wonder why it’s so hard in day to day life to choose yourself.
The most important reason for this is choosing yourself generally means saying “no” to someone else, either directly or indirectly. I’ll use some of the situations that I ran into in the last few weeks as examples.

  • Shall I accept the 3rd and 4rd goodbye-dinner invite this week? Even though I’m tired and my irritable bowels have been irritated for a couple of weeks already. Because I feel honored to be invited and I want to show that by accepting the invitation.
  • Do I agree to work three, instead of two days next week, thereby shortening my much-needed holiday and the time available to buy Christmas presents for my family? After all people have planned some things that they really need (want) me to be present at and that are understandably difficult to reschedule.
  • If I agree to the above, do I then take this Friday off, to compensate.
  • I feel flattered that many people want to discuss their business goals with me. However, with a potential group of 300 people to discuss goals with, an already busy agenda and a limited amount of introvert energy available for meetings, where do I draw the line?

Accepting dinner invites, meetings and additional work all means that you can make other people happy. If you are lucky they will show their appreciation and that in turn will make you feel good. Saying “yes” is the easy choice, resulting in the instant gratification of gratefulness of others.

Declining invites and kindly refusing more work, or properly compensating for it is hard work. I like the people that are inviting me. I really do feel honored and flattered and want to help whenever possible, especially if it means I can support someone’s growth and development. This is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding sides of my job.
Saying “no” means I’ll disappoint people. If I accept all invitations and requests though, I will feel terrible because my bowels will get into a worse state with each dinner and my energy levels will plummet due to too many meetings and not enough quiet time.

While it seems like just going with the flow, accepting invitations and requests is the easiest option, you should factor the consequences into your decision. In my case it would mean that I would be in pain, stressed out and because of that probably quite fiery.

  • While being at the dinners, I would worry about what to eat and how much longer I would have to sit at the table dressed nicely, instead of being able to lay down in jogging pants.
  • Even though I would meet with everyone that asked me to discuss their goals, I would be tired and stressed. Which in turn would mean I would be unable to focus and listen carefully to what they have to say, see things through their eyes and tap into my creative energy to come up with ideas that can help them.
  • I would spend an additional day in the office as requested, but I would be stressed out and annoyed, because of my inability to manage my time off and my agenda. And because I would be annoyed at myself for being a pushover.

Even though it seems like accepting everyone’s request is the nicest thing to do, nobody will get the best version of me. They’ll get me in a tired and grumpy mood, low on energy and in pain. None of them will be able to see that clearly, because you are the only one who can determine how you feel exactly. Other people can’t feel what you feel and because of that they can’t make decisions for you. You have to listen to your body. Not just quickly for a few minutes when something is hurting, or before you go to bed, but really paying attention to how you are feeling. Are your eyes burning, your bowels feeling uncomfortable, or your arms stiff? Are you short tempered or unable to concentrate? Based on what you feel you can make the best decisions. For yourself and for the people around you.
Make sure you make the choices that mean you can be the best version of you.

I don’t want to leave you with a cliffhanger, so here’s what I decided to do:

  • I went to two goodbye-dinners and one goodbye-drinks for just two hours. I respectfully declined one dinner invitation.
  • By asking several people for a bit more information on what type of information they were looking for from me related to their goals, I was able to at least give them a partial answer, or a referral over email, thus limiting the number of meetings.
  • I agreed to work three days next week, but took this Friday off. I did feel guilty about that until lunchtime, which of course is a bit daft and a less than optimal way to spend my day off.

I decided to take care of myself before pleasing others several times. It’s not easy, but I know that I have to stay in touch with what my body is trying to tell me and act upon it. Both for myself and for everyone around me.

Listen to your body. It's smarter than you.

How do you speak your mind?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. You could argue that I always do a lot of thinking, but during these last few weeks it’s been even busier in my head than normal.
Because I have been considering critical thinking, I am listening and reading with a different perspective.
My opinions haven’t suddenly changed, I’m simply paying a little more attention and I’m a touch sharper than I was before. This also made me want to speak out more often, but as I don’t like confrontations I want to formulate my responses and arguments in a clear and compassionate way.

In order to voice your opinion in a calm and clear manner, it is important that you pay attention to exactly what the other person is stating and that you figure out what point you want to get across. After all, if you misinterpret the message that you want to respond to there is very little chance that the person making the statement, or people watching or reading from the periphery are able to use your statement as valuable input to their thinking.

To be able to interpret a statement you should take a couple of things into account:

  • Who made the statement? What is this person’s background, what might be their biases
  • Can you determine the context in which the statement was made? It makes a big difference if a statement was made as part of a news article, an argument in a bar after a few beers, or while trying to explain something to a young child.
  • What makes the statement trigger a response from you? A good start is to determine if the statement is factually correct. If it’s not, do you think that the person delivering the statement is aware of this? Do you disagree with the entire statement, or just with part of it, or perhaps just with the way the statement was worded?
    It’s also interesting to verify your own biases. Do you for instance dislike the source of the statement (a person, newspaper or website)?

Once you have found answers to these questions you can start to consider your response. You can start by collecting a set of objective statements of your own, that together will support the argument that you want to put forward. To do this properly it’s important to not let your emotions get the best of you.
Depending on my state of mind and how much sleep I got, this can be quite tricky. If you feel very strongly about a topic it’s often hard to objectively consider it. To have any chance of convincing someone of your point of view it’s important to stay calm and base your argument on reason, not emotion.

You can also decide that you don’t want to respond to the content of the statement, but that you want to share the emotion that it triggered in you.
That is a valid decision, however it should not be used to convince someone else of your opinion. It can of course be used if you want others to show they feel sympathy, or commiseration for you.

To create a clear argument, you can collect statements that consist of a conclusion and a set of suppositions or assumptions to support the conclusion. If you want to convince someone using reason, make sure you keep your arguments objective and fact based. Once you have done all of this you are ready to communicate.

Even if you have been able to clearly and objectively phrase your argument this doesn’t mean that you will be able to convince the person it was directed at. How your argument is received and whether it will change someone’s opinion is up to the receiver to decide.
Remember to stay friendly and polite, regardless of the response that you get. If we would all try to phrase our arguments this way consuming news or social media would become a lot more bearable!

Conflicts content and delivery

An update on my flow

About six weeks ago, I started to make some changes to the way I work to create more focused time. I wrote about my thoughts at that time here ( Since then I removed about 5 hours of weekly recurring meetings from my calendar, which of course immediately created a significant amount of time in which I could work. Not having unnecessary meetings also meant I had a lot more energy to spend on the tasks I wanted to complete. As an introvert, meetings require more energy than working on something on my own. So, while some meetings are fun and a sometimes even useful, a better mix helps me to manage my energy throughout the day and week.

I also tried to be more effective while working on my tasks. I turned off all email notifications, so the only way to see if new emails came in, is by opening Outlook. This limits “external” interruptions. It also makes it easier to stay focused during meetings, as I don’t have to contain my curiosity.
I also tried to change my habits so that wouldn’t distract myself all the time by looking at my phone, Facebook or Instagram. This is working particularly well at times when I have enough energy. I still notice that when I’m tired, frustrated, or stressed that I look for distractions every few minutes. Managing this requires more practice, although the more comfortable and effective solution would be to manage my energy a bit better.

The first few weeks I was managing my calendar rigorously. That worked so well that after a few weeks I loosened my grip a bit, thinking that I had this under control. What followed were several weeks with training and off-site meetings though. Meaning that multiple days in those weeks were lost for doing actual work and having “normal” meetings. In those weeks the normal work got stuffed into the other days, which meant I tried to do five days’ worth of work and meetings in three days. I’ll just state the obvious: that doesn’t work. I got stressed out and frustrated over not being able to manage my schedule and too much time spent in meetings.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the progress that I was able to make in my way of working. I was able to complete a lot more pro-active tasks and manage my energy better. That last both good for me and for the people around me. I will need to stay very alert though, loosening my grip means that my calendar fills up beyond what I feel comfortable with.
I also need to remember to take care of my energy first and other people second. If I’ve been in two days of off-site meetings I want to be in the office, to be available to other people. However, after two days like that I’m also in need of some solitude. Choosing to be in the office works well for a couple of hours, but after that I get frustrated by trying to combine too many meetings, catching up with work and unplanned conversations.  I’ll try to improve on that by planning a day of working from home after full day meetings next time.

All in all, some very positive results in a relatively short amount of time, with several opportunities to grow and improve on.

Thinking about my thinking

On Friday a friend pointed out the graduation speech that Tim Minchin delivered in 2013 at the University of Western Australia (9 Life Lessons – Tim Minchin UWA Address). I’d not heard of Tim Minchin before this.
Thanks to Youtube’s cunning algorithms I found and watched several other Tim Minchin video’s. Ok, I might have watched more than “several”.

Over the course of the weekend I have tried to figure out what it is about the video’s that appeals to me. It would be easy to say that it is just a simple crush, because I like people who are smart and witty and people who like musical theater and can sing, but it’s not that vulgar.
What appeals to me most is the fact that Tim is a critical thinker, who takes empathy to the next level. He is eloquent, funny and critical about ideas, but he doesn’t “target” specific people.
It’s nice to see someone with an audience who is smart and can express his ideas and who doesn’t appear to take himself too seriously. It’s a nice break from the negativity that you see on TV, in the news and on social media these days.
It also feels very good to be intellectually challenged, on a subject that is not work related, to take my current thinking one step or on some topics several steps further. I like a challenge, and this is an interesting one I feel is worth exploring. I like the idea of strengthening my critical thinking skills.

Based on some of the conversations I’ve tried to have about this topic I think this is probably a good moment to share a definition of critical thinking. There are several definitions on Wikipedia, but this one appeals to me the most:
“Critical thinking is disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence”.
It’s lovely to hear someone argue a point based on logic and reason, rather than operate based on the principle of “he who shouts the loudest is the most right”, which is what I see a lot, both in the media and in work environments.
I have scratched the surface of critical thinking, but I’m excited to practice it more and see where it will take me.

There is one thing that I’m a bit worried about.
For the last few days I have been looking for someone to discuss the idea of critical thinking with and it has been quite hard to find someone who was aware of the concept and interested in it. I was actively looking for a conversation about the topic itself. If I really get into this, I would as a result be more inclined to challenge ideas, whether out loud or to myself. Here’s my concern:
If you are a critical thinker, will you be able to ever have a friendly and fulfilling conversation at a birthday party, or an office get together?
I’m afraid that Tim’s nine-minute beat poem “Storm” contains the answer, but I guess time will tell…

Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking

I’m living my own life

I’m very happy with my life at the moment. I have a fantastic job, a beautiful house that fills me with pride, a good relationship with my parents and a small group of close friends who I love dearly and who I know will have my back should that ever be necessary.
Yet many people pity me and feel that I should be looking to change my life. Did you guess why yet?
I’m single and I don’t have kids.

I realize that my life is different from that of most people my age. I also understand that this means that I’m missing out on certain experiences. But I’m ok with that. My life allows me to spend time on the things I love to do, to change plans last minute, to design my house the way I want to and make changes to it whenever I feel like it.
I’m happy and not looking for a man in my life. I also don’t hear or feel my biological clock ticking.

My life is rich and full spending time with friends, playing sports, regularly visiting my parents and feeling blessed spending time at home, on my own.
Whenever I want to share my thoughts and experiences, or when I feel the need to vent, I can go to my friends and family, or I can write about it and share it with you lovely readers.

Yet several people around me feel the need to regularly ask me if I’m dating yet. And every time I explain that I’m not and that I’m also not looking for someone to date. I’m not saying it will never happen, but I’m not taking any action to make it happen.
Sometimes I feel like asking people that keep getting back to this if they are divorced yet. But that’s not nice and I’m pretty sure it would not be considered socially acceptable. I hope that someday people will realize that asking me or any other happy single if we are dating yet is just as disrespectful towards us and our lifestyle.
I’m living my life the way I choose to live it!

i love my life and the ones in it

Writing considerations

For a while now I have been contemplating about a couple of things related to writing and my blog. One of the things I’m on the fence about is whether I should try writing in Dutch (which is my native language).
There are two main triggers:

  1. I would like to reach a larger audience
  2. I often feel that my posts come out “heavier” than I intent them to be and than they feel when I’m thinking about them in my head

I would like to get more readers. I have learned from someone who’s experience and opinion I value greatly that the best place to find a loyal audience is in the smallest niche you can find to write about. My original idea was that I would write in English, from a “successful woman in business”-point of view. I felt that would be a decent niche, and it’s who/what I am, so it seemed simple enough. However, when I try to put a “female” angle in my posts I tend to lose all inspiration.
Now the people that read my posts are mostly personal Facebook friends and some Twitter followers.
Another way to find a niche could be to write in Dutch.

The second reason to consider writing in Dutch is that I feel my posts always come out quite “heavy”. I write about serious topics, but the highlights that are in my head before I start writing the post usually feel lighter to me than the written result. This might just be my feeling, and not how others read it of course, but it means that I’m not always as excited about how a post comes out as I could be.

While brainstorming about this on Facebook one of my very smart friends also suggested that the posts do not get heavier because of the language, but they might get heavier because of the format. I had to think about this for a day, but he might be onto something.
When I think about a post before I write it, I always think about it in English. While it’s in my head, I usually address it directly to you (the reader). However, when I start writing, I don’t want to come across as a smartass and I’m afraid that I might offend people. To avoid this, I turn the post around a bit by writing from my own perspective, focusing on my own experience.

I’m interested in your opinions as I’m still not entirely sure on the best way forward. For that same reason you might find some experiments on here in the weeks to come!



Practice what you preach

Why is it so hard to follow your own advice? On some days I feel like “do as I say, not as I do” could be my motto.
Even though I know that the people that work with and for you will copy your behavior. That means that it’s very important to practice what you preach.

When someone at work is not feeling well, I truly feel that they should they take care of their health first and stay home until they feel better. I try to get this feeling across to people, so they feel comfortable taking the time they need.
However, when I get sick, for some reason it’s a completely different story. As long as I can sit, walk and drive I will go to work. That’s setting a bad example!

Today was such a day. I had a rough night and was coughing and not feeling well. Of course, by the end of the afternoon it was even worse. Despite it being a productive day, it’s not comfortable for me and it’s not a good example for others. Changing your own behavior is difficult though.
But at least there is some hope: I already called in sick for tomorrow. No more excuses. My first order of business is getting better. Once that is taken care off I will get back to work.

Listen to your body. It's smarter than you.