Finding yourself and your very own way

It has taken me ages to feel in sync with myself. I wish someone had told me when I was young how important it actually is to follow my heart and my dreams. To move forward regardlessly. To learn and develop, to try out things without being afraid to make a mistake, certainly not striving to be perfect. Life is about the journey – not about making the “right” decision each time.

Today I know that life is a journey and not a destination, the purpose being to learn as much as you can and then refine and fine-tune your path, finding your way, going left or right without being afraid. When I am looking at young girls today I feel the need to tell them exactly that. 

We get caught up so easily in what others might think of us, keeping up appearances or putting on a show, hiding who we really are. Afraid of showing our true self, being afraid of rejection and ridicule – of which we get a lot at school, which often shapes us impacting out adult lives. We all long for acceptance and belonging. 

And today, with all the social media circus around us, it is even harder to be yourself, especially when you are a girl. It takes courage, and a good backup at home from parents who acknowledge the importance of encouraging their children. Knowing that strength is about being true to yourself. That showing vulnerability is essential in finding your way forward into this very difficult and complex world. 

Life is hard in the face of adversity, but it is possible to get through it. Knowing the tools to use while being in the middle of the storm helps a lot. Thankfully, there are parents who have a lot of awareness about this, raising their children carefully and mindfully into strong, responsible, kind adults who are not afraid to speak their minds and stand up for themselves.

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. (Albert Schweitzer)

My late aunt – my father’s sister who was my godmother – encouraged me a lot when I was a child, in a rather indirect way. She reassured me, offering me a safe place where I felt I could be myself from a very young age onwards, like a safe haven. She never said anything directly to me about what she perceived until when I was an adult, was never judgemental in any way. She just gave me her unconditional love and understanding, her support and kindness. She was a good role-model, patient and good-humoured. 

Looking back I understand more now. She was the good spirit in my life and she did a great job in raising me – albeit from a distance as we did not have the chance to meet very often. But spending time with her was always pleasant, it felt like an oasis of well-being. We were one of a kind and I felt very close to her. She inspired me in many ways. I owe to her my creativity, a lot of my interests, among them my love for nature. And above all, I owe to her the assuredness that I am me and have the right to be myself and to be accepted as I am. Whatever other people might think or say. 

That’s why I feel the need to give back, particularly to young girls and to younger colleagues. To tell them – in my own rather direct and straightforward manner – how important it is to be in sync with yourself, to find your own way and not to shy back from going wherever you feel the need to go because your heart tells you so. 

To experiment and not being scared of failure. To realize that making mistakes is part of the deal and not something to punish yourself for. To listen more to your heart than to other people’s opinions.That life is about a life-long learning process. Getting impulses fosters understanding and growth. I have learnt the same way and that helped me become who I am today.

Do what your feel in your heart is right. You’ll get criticized for it anyway.(Eleanor Roosevelt)

Everyone has to gain their very own experiences in life, of course. And some of us tend to make it harder on ourselves as it should be, but that is also a way of learning. 

Life is constantly changing. We have to walk our own path, not somebody else’s. Nothing is carved out for us – we have to go where no-one else did go before, step by step. When I was young, I did not think about that. I wanted to do what was “right”. Not straying left or right. 

Little did I know. That’s not what you learn at school – sadly, because that is what actually matters. It could help to push our boundaries, and to save young people from a lot of heartache and insecurities. A lot what we are suffering from is based on our own exaggerated expectations, something which we even might have taken over from our parents, without questioning. It’s pressure we needlessly put on ourselves. It is – as so often – the thoughts in our heads that are the root cause of our misery.

Eventually all things fall into place. Until then, laugh at the confusion, live for the moment, and know EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON. (Albert Schweitzer)

The first time I really felt in sync with myself was at the age of 53. Well. You are never too old and it’s never too late. That I know for sure. Meanwhile.

Things take as long as they take and it’s different for everyone. No need to be sad or upset about it. There is always a reason why things take time, like a seed that needs to grow. Like we need to be ready for the next step. Let’s not forget: the grass does not grow faster because you pull at it, right?

For me, it translates directly into the question: what is our purpose in life – why are we here?

  • To learn – about ourselves.
  • To find freedom – to free our minds from the expectation of others. From our own notions of how we are supposed to be. 
  • To get clarity about what really matters and where our priorities need to be.

Isn’t it a fascinating journey we are on? We can grow as old as we want to – we are still learning, developing, changing our preferences and interests, discovering new insights and understanding more and more how it is all connected. 

I am waiting for the moment when I will realize how everything falls into place. Sometimes I feel like getting a hint of it, as if the clouds are lifting for a brief moment to show the sun or a small piece of blue sky. 

I have the feeling it will be amazing. 

The challenge of mindfulness

To know that I have done enough and the best I could when the day draws to a close is important. For work and also private matters.

Expecting too much of ourselves is quite common and a recipe for making us unhappy. There is always something each day that falls through the grid making me feel guilty once I realize it. Something that I  have forgotten for whatever reason, wondering whether my sub-conscience mind is trying to tell me something.

  • That task from my action list that I still did not get around doing.
  • That call to a friend I have been thinking about for a week, or the letter I wanted to write still lying half-finished on my desk.
  • That matter needing clarification with a colleague. And so on…

Of course, with a full agenda it is bound to happen, and I am far more aware of it now than I was in the past. Getting older I am becoming more conscious of having limited time. Juggling so many tasks feels exhausting, and cramming more and more activities into my day is not going to work. 

You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

What helps me is to acknowledge and remind myself at the end of the day how much I have actually accomplished and learned. Things that brought me a step further, interesting insights which gave me a good impulse, support I could give to others. Instead of easily dismissing it as “normal and not so important” I’m actively shifting my focus to it.

The rest can wait until tomorrow. After all, the sky is not going to fall down on me if I am not dealing with something immediately. Funnily enough, I gave exactly that advice to my manager this week;-)

It also helps to realize that we are not alone with such thoughts. Others struggle in a similar manner, trying to find their way through their very own jungle on a daily basis.

A good reminder of that I got yesterday when listening to a video panel discussion on “How to find a good work-life-balance”  in my company, with colleagues sharing their own experiences about how they are dealing with a big workload, managing family life in pandemic times, having too many conference calls while consciously trying to stay balanced and being mindful. Big expectations limited by reality which regularly bites. 

It was like looking into the mirror making me nod in agreement and smile,  recognizing my own behaviour and my own mechanisms dealing with daily life. And it made me realize how many things I actually handle well already, and where there is still some room for improvement. 

What I took away was nothing new, but an important reinforcement and encouragement: 

  • Being compassionate and kind with ourselves, managing our energy in a good way, listening to what our body is telling us and what our heart needs – and not ignoring it. Because if we do our body will pull the brakes sooner than we think, simply to get some rest. 
  • Acknowledging that we just have bad days but there is no need to beat ourselves up for it. It is part of life, it happens but neither will it last forever nor does it put us in question as a person. We need to manage our own expectations toward ourselves, and take it one day at a time.
  • Saying no. We always have a choice. Decline a call or ask for more time to complete a task. Setting boundaries is essential. Yes, we do have the right to do this. And it’s a way of taking control of our own agenda, our precious time. We are the ones who prioritise what we do and how. It takes courage and effort though, being conscious at all times that this decision is ours to take. It is our own responsibility. Don’t blame it on your boss or the person putting a request to you.
  • Prioritise and set aside time for taking a break, spending time with your family, doing sports or taking a nap, going for a walk etc. This is important recreation and we need it to recharge. Slow down.

Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves. – Pema Chödrön

An important message, especially for junior colleagues to set the record straight. It is so easy to fall into the trap to responding quickly each time, neglecting oneself’s needs and regretting it later, feeling exhausted and stressed out. Neither our private life nor work has to be like this.

Essentially, it is about feeling in sync with yourself. It is not an automatism we achieve but rather a constant learning process leading to more consciousness. It is a very individual matter finding out what is good for you and then do it. If it’s going for a walk in nature, enjoying a good meal, doing creative work or reading a book, having a conversation with a friend, listening to an inspiring podcast, taking time to do yoga or sitting still in meditation… 

And it certainly takes practice. It’s never a given.

My favourite remedy is going outside to visit my friends’ sheep which are grazing in front of my house. Breathing fresh air, the wind in my face, connecting with these peaceful animals which know me for so many years now is pure enjoyment every time.

We take care of the future best by taking care of the present now. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Whatever helps you to get you back into balance is good. Sometimes it could even be a breathing exercise to calm our ever busy mind. Integrating some of these elements into my day helps to keep me grounded, and I notice quickly if I fail to do them, by feeling uneasy and even angry with myself.

Interestingly, when I started working for my current company more than 20 years ago, there was no awareness at all around this topic. Luckily, times have changed and the focus on wellbeing and mindfulness has increased in the past years, recently of course, even more, amplified through the pandemic and its impact on the way we work. 

A good example by the way, how even a negative event can bring about positive change.

Take good care of yourselves, wherever you are.

Interested to learn more about mindfulness? Check out the mindfulness chapter on my resources page.

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