What We Gain By Being ‘Lazy’

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In Georgetown, Malaysia we met a couple at our hostel. They had already been on the road for three months and still had months and months of travel ahead of them. As we were eager to hear their story we sat down at the same table to eat breakfast and drink coffee.

Up until May, the couple had been living their life in the UK, working and saving up money for their own house. But then they had realized that the kind of life they were building for, they weren’t ready for it. Not yet.

So, they quit their jobs, took the money they had saved and hit the road.

At some point, however, they intend to return to their home country and start working again. And this was clearly something they had been thinking about because the woman said:

“I hope that the employers don’t see our travels as being lazy.”

This got me thinking because what she said really is something worth hoping for.

Study-Work Continuum

In many western countries, both education and work are seen as something incredibly valuable, something worth focusing on. Many grow up learning that either you study or you work but there’s no option in-between which means that after you’ve finished your education you continue to the work life and stay there until you’re ready to retire. We are encouraged to fall into the school-work continuum.

The decision to sell your belongings (or store them somewhere), leave everything you have behind and hit the road is, however, the complete opposite of the school-work continuum of a western modern society. Because being on the road, traveling, is neither studying or working.

At least from the society’s point of view – because taking a year or more off to travel leaves a big gaping hole in your CV. I can only imagine the job interview where the leap year is noticed:

“What did you do during this year?”
“I was abroad.”
“Hmph, and where did you go on holiday?”
“Southeast Asia, mostly – I traveled around. It was really wonderful! Affordable, the people were so friendly and the nature amazing.”
“I see.”

The employer might very well think you spent the last year chillaxing on the beach or riding a motorcycle without a helmet on. And he probably thinks that you, during that time, didn’t so much as lift as a finger.

But the thing is, traveling and especially backpacking isn’t being lazy.

It’s a lot of work. Almost like a full-time job, really.

Gaining Knowledge

During these six weeks on the road, we’ve slowly but surely gotten into the groove of traveling. Currently, we are in our third country in Southeast Asia, Vietnam, and plan to be here three weeks before flying to our next destination.

During these six weeks, we’ve familiarized ourselves and adapted to three different cultures: Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese. We’ve learnt the basics of their social norms and etiquette, we’ve learned some of the key phrases of their language and figured out how their monetary system work. We have gained understanding of their culture, their cuisine, religion, and infrastructure.

At the same time, we have gained perspective on our own country, our infrastructure, the western culture and social norms. We have seen how things can be done, how they shouldn’t be done and how different the people in Southeast Asia see their world, life and future compared to the western cultures.

This, for instance, is extremely valuable in the ever more globalized and multicultural world.

In addition to this, we’ve also become pro at planning and executing the plans. Every few days we sit down, take out the computer and connect it to the best wi-fi we can find. We research our travel options, figure out when and where the bus or the train will go, where we will end up in and where we are going to stay.

In a new place, we learn where the ATMs are, where the best local food is served, where we can find the nearest convenience store for water (and ice cream) and learn to know other backpackers and travelers staying in the same place.

We try to find out where we can do our laundry, where we can find proper, vitamin-rich food (believe me, it’s a struggle) and where’s the pharmacy when you get sick (just did this in Hanoi) or how to deal with bedbug bites (unfortunately, it did happen).

The ability to adapt is a good skill to have in the modern society – and something not all people have.

Learning New Skills

Being on the road, carrying all our belongings with us, is a rollercoaster ride of new skills, constant adapting and evolving, conflicts, success and learning to be social with so many people from so many different cultures.

In other words, being on the road is far from being lazy. The couple we spoke to during that breakfast knew it and we know it.

Being on the road gives you competences that staying at home never can give: you gain unique perspective on your own culture, social norms and the structure of your society; you become a thinker and a doer, and you are more okay with adapting to new situations and new people. You are constantly kicked out from your comfort zone which forces you to self-development.

People who have been on the road are actually golden in modern societies that are constantly changing and becoming more multicultural than ever before.

And if the employer doesn’t understand this when you tell him/her about your year on the road – maybe you’re applying for the wrong job (or the right job but with the wrong boss).

Experiencing My First Culture Shock

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In 2016, I did a semester in Galway, Ireland as an exchange student. Before leaving, we were warned several times about something called the culture shock – “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.”

In Ireland, I never experienced those feelings of disorientation because the country is very western and pretty much what I had expected. It was easy to adjust to the culture, to start saying ‘how are you’ to random people on their morning stroll and ordering a pint of Smithwick’s in the pub.

And even after the exchange period, I didn’t even think about culture shock because wherever I went, it was easy for me to adjust and navigate through the customs and norms of the different countries.

But that was when I was traveling in Europe. Now I’m in Southeast Asia – and things are a bit different.

Bugs, Dirt and Worn Out Towels

From Koh Samui we took the bus back to Bangkok and then flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We were welcomed by the business city of magnificent sky scrapers and the taxi drive from the airport to our hotel into the middle of the bustling city center felt exciting – something so different after the small cities and islands of Thailand.

But then we checked into our hotel.

“A New Hotel!” the sign said, and the name of the place even had the word royal in it. But when we got into our room… I’ve never cried because of accommodation but now I did. Partly because I was so very tired after many days of energy consuming travel, but partly because of the shock of how much worse the room was compared to the thai standard we had learned to know and deal with.

Why it was a shock, you wonder? Well…

The bed sheets were filled with holes and dirt that doesn’t come off anymore. The walls were dirty, the paint was peeling off, the towels felt and looked like they had been used for 10 years already. The wi-fi didn’t work, there was a smell, we had no window in the room and worst of all – there were so many bugs who liked to spend their time crawling on the beds.

I wanted to check out from the hotel the same second we had checked in, I was sure I couldn’t take it for the three nights we had booked at this place. However, my partner convinced me to wait a moment, that we would consider everything after we had eaten some food.

Realizing the Social Norms

Food helped me take a breath, to gather my thoughts. The friendliness of the locals also helped a great deal. We decided to look around the nearby city quarters, check out the Chinatown and even hop on a tourist bus to see the city. For a few hours, everything was okay and I managed to forget the hotel room I didn’t want to return to.

But then the evening came and I started noticing more things that didn’t feel quite alright. How there were almost no women on the streets, only some other female tourists and a few Muslim women with their husbands and families. How no one asked me what I wanted, only what my partner wanted because he’s a man. How I wanted to avoid eye contact with the men on the street because it didn’t feel safe.

It felt confusing not to see what you’re used to and realize that in this city there are different social norms that steer the society.

After a one-hour hop-on hop-off bus tour we hopped off in the city center and went for dinner at the busy food street next to our hotel. There, I was again faced with things I had not been expecting.

Noise, Always Noise

I was overwhelmed with what I saw, what I heard and what I felt.

I saw people who had lost some of their limbs; a man with severe burn marks on his face; another with a physically distorted body – all sitting on the ground begging for money from the tourists walking by.

For me, it was so hard accept that I couldn’t do anything to help them.

And if the local people weren’t there begging, they were doing everything in their power to try to sell me food or other products (or mostly my partner because he’s a man and the culture in the country is very dominated by men). They were ringing bells, yelling, honking, shoving menus in our faces, some of them walking after us persuading us to eat at their restaurant. It was so primitive – to use noise to attract attention, because if they get your attention it’ll be easier to sell you things.

I wasn’t enjoying the city at all – how could I? Kuala Lumpur was filled with noise, always noise wherever we went, whether it was noise made by people or the honking cars. Or there was always people trying to get your attention – there wasn’t room or silence to sit down and think.

I just wanted to get away from everything, I just wanted to find a quiet place.

For a while I thought I wasn’t fit to travel, that I couldn’t do it – I wasn’t even having fun.

But after a couple of day of negative reactions to everything around me, I realized what was happening. I was experiencing a culture shock, something I had heard about years before.

It explained why I had so much trouble adjusting to the new country.

Peace Through Understanding

When I realized this, it became a bit easier to understand the awful feelings and thoughts inside my head. This was a natural reaction when exposed to something completely new – and the most important thing was to know that even this feeling of disorientation will pass. By understanding it became easier to sleep in the room (after getting rid of the bugs); we started going somewhere less crowded where there weren’t bell-ringing or yelling locals trying to get my attention, and I got used to seeing more men than women on the streets.

Still, I felt very happy happy when we traveled North to Georgetown in Penang three nights later. This is a small city with less sound, less tourists and better accommodation. This place is also chance to breath out, to realize what has been happening inside my head and give Malaysia a new chance.

Experiencing a culture shock was awful and for a moment it felt like traveling wasn’t anything for me. But after realizing what was happening, what I was experiencing, I thought that at the same time, the rollercoaster of feelings and thoughts about the city and its culture was a valuable lesson in the process of learning to know myself.

Now I know one of the possible downsides of travel and how I react to these things. I also know that I can deal with rooms without windows, I’m okay with taking a shower above the toilet, and I know to walk away from areas that are too touristic for my own good.

And the most important thing – despite the heavy shock I’m still on the road, still backpacking. I’m ready for the next adventure, the next town and the new people we’ll meet on the road.

Facing a Fear in Neoprene Slippers

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If life was a game, then fear would be the Great Hand controlling the direction of that game. Therefore, if one is interested in winning the game, using that fear is the best way to get closer to the finish line.

For many years now, I’ve been curious about fear and how it directs our lives. It’s the constant villain that color thousands of years of history, it’s the shadow steering today’s politics, it’s that voice sitting on our left shoulder, whispering instructions on what choices to make and what not.

Wondering what I’m talking about? Hang on for a little while longer.

Fear is our greatest enemy – but also our best friend. It’s the feeling that both keeps us from progressing and helps us get onward… depending on how you face the fear. They who are courageous enough (and even a bit crazy) to listen to Fear’s voice and, most of all, challenge everything it says – these people can find their way to many great things.

By following our fears we find the roots to our anxiety and are able to deal with them first hand – and we might end up with a more fulfilling, self-confident life. But if you do the opposite and avoid those fears, if you opt for closing your eyes from them and distract yourself into thinking something else, something nicer… Life will definitely be more dully colored.

Are you still there, still reading? Good. Now, let me tell you why fear is the topic for this Thursday.

Facing One’s Fears

For the past few years, I’ve been curious about my comfort zone and what lies outside it. What are the fears I need to face so that I will grow as a person? What am I afraid of and why? How do these fears limit my life and the choices I make?

I am certain of the fact that facing one fear’s is a good thing. But the challenging thing is to know when it’s valuable to face that fear and diminish it, and when it’s better to leave it alone because, in the end, it only limits your life very little.

For instance, I’m quite afraid of snakes. However, as long as I’m not living a life where I have to deal with snakes on a daily or even weekly basis, I can’t see the point of getting rid of my fear for snakes. Working on diminishing one’s fears takes an incredible amount of time and energy, two of our most valuable resources, which means we have to make a choice. Instead of focusing on some more seldom activated fears, I’m more interested in facing other fears – those that limit my life on an almost-daily basis.

One of these fears is calling up people I’m not familiar with. I wrote about it last week because it’s an active fear at the moment, something I have to do for my Master’s thesis if I wish to graduate. But I faced that fear, called those people, and although it was a daunting task and made me extremely stressed, I survived. With a smile!

And last Friday, I faced another fear.

(This year has clearly been a good year for facing fears so far – it’s only the beginning of March and two fears diminished already!)

Neoprene Slippers and a Cotton Overall

For years now, there has been a course I’ve been avoiding as some cats avoid wet grass – a course called Survival Course for Boaters. For years, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in that course and even been encouraged to do so, but I never considered twice if I wanted to participate – because I didn’t.

The Survival Course for Boaters is a course organized by the Maritime Safety Training Centre a few-hour-drive away from my home city. The exercises take place indoors in a huge 43×27 meter swimming pool with a sail boat, life rafts, authentic evacuation equipment for cruisers and, coolest of all, a helicopter.

The course is aimed for sailors and boaters who want to practice surviving in the water. The exercises include, for instance, pulling oneself into a life raft, a sailboat or a rowing boat, climbing up the side of a cruiser ship, and getting evacuated into a ”flying” helicopter. In addition to this, the exercises can be made pretty authentic because the place has a storm simulator which means that they are able to create one-meter-high waves, heavy 10–15 m/s wind, rain and darkness.

It sounds cool, right? And I can tell you that the place is extremely cool – but participating in all those exercises… as I said, I have been avoiding this course for years. Why? Because I was so incredibly afraid: I was certain I would panic during the simulated storms and that my physical condition wasn’t good enough to accomplish all those exercises.

I didn’t want to go because I was 100 % sure I would fail.

And still, somewhere inside me, I was curious to know how I would survive this one-day course filled with physical challenges in water.

So finally, after all these years, I decided to face my fear and found myself beside that pool wearing my swim suit, a red cotton overall, an orange life jacket and neoprene slippers. I had no idea what to expect, how many bruises I would get, or how I would get through all those exercises. But I was there and I was ready to get comfortable on the outside of my comfort zone.

Feelings of Horror… and Surprise

Well, I had the most awesome day in a long time.

In the end of that day, I felt tired but exhilarated. I had had a wonderful, super awesome and cool day filled with climbing, paddling, swimming, jumping and getting pulled up into a sailboat and a helicopter. I was cold and shivered like crazy after having finished the last exercise (two minutes in a 5°C cold-water pool), but as I got into the sauna and my body began to warm up, I felt relaxed and happy, almost as if I had been on a vacation. I even felt somewhat surprised that the day hadn’t been tougher than that.

During the course, I accomplished all the exercises without any problems. I had the energy and courage needed to take action in different situations, and most of all, I could keep myself calm even during the more adrenaline-boosting exercises.

Only once did I experience a clean sense of horror: we had just climbed up the side of the (fake) cruise ship when we found out we were going to go back down the next second… by jumping back into the water from a height of 4.5 meters. To someone, this might sound like nothing. To me, it sounded horrifying. I’m not afraid of heights but I’m not comfortable with them either. I was never that kid who wanted to jump from ten meters to the swimming pool – 1.5 meters was quite enough for me. So when the instructor told us to jump and it was my turn, I almost turned around to say I wouldn’t do it. The sense of horror was extreme, the feeling of panic when I saw the distance to the water – but I only hesitated for a second or two before I jumped.

I was able to face a fear by (quite literally) taking a leap to the unknown.

Fear of the Unknown

My fears that had been built up during years and years of avoidance were proven wrong that day. Of course, good physical condition helps one finish the exercises, especially in the end of the day, but in the end, surviving in the water is much more about your mental strength and knowing the right techniques of surviving.

The thing with this fear, as with many others, is that it was built upon something I didn’t understand or have enough knowledge of. In my case, my fear was built upon the belief that I’m not fit enough to succeed and I’ll panic although I didn’t even know what the exercises of that course entailed.

I built my own fear on the basis of my own speculations, beliefs and horrifying visions, and realized last Friday how twisted they were when compared to reality.

In addition to all those magnificent bruises I now have in my legs and armpits, I have a better understanding of myself and my fear. The course gave me a boost of self-confidence but it also made me realize how wrong my fear has been all these years. And if this fear was wrong, what are the odds that some other fears of mine are twisted as well?

Because, even those phone calls I was so afraid of making… they all turned out really good – another fear diminished.

So, facing one’s fears is a way of winning in this game we call life, because it takes you closer to yourself. Facing those fears helps you get onward with your life because when you’re not afraid of things that aren’t actually frightening, you are able to focus on other things, throw the dice one more time and see where the number takes you. Maybe to another fear, and, extended, to another win?

***

What are the fears you would like to deal with? And if you consider them in the light of this post, how real do you think those fears are?

Choosing What’s Important

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I had been hoping I would be able to write a nice update on how my editing process is going. A month ago, I had just read my manuscript of Yellow Tails from beginning to end and was excited to share some facts about the plot and the main character, Jello.

I thought that the notes I took while reading the manuscript for the first time would be enough to start editing the story, but I decided to go a different way. Instead, I chose to focus on planning a more detailed storyline before diving into the editing process of the actual manuscript.

And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past month: working through every scene, creating an external, plot-focused arc and combined it with an internal, emotion-focused one – trying to create a well-flowing, interesting story.

However, I haven’t come very far. This past month hasn’t been a glorious month of progress when it comes to editing Yellow Tails. Why? Because I’ve been focusing on my Master’s thesis. And that hasn’t been a completely conflict-free decision.

Work Before Passion

I’ve been beating myself up many times for not focusing more on my book project. For many weeks now, on my list of to-dos for the week, I’ve had a box waiting to be ticked off, saying Plan Act 2, Part 2 and the next day, Plan Act 3, Part 1 and so on – but none of those boxes have been ticked off. There hasn’t been any progress, which makes me incredibly disappointed, even a bit sad.

Instead of editing, I’ve been focusing on my thesis (and this blog, in order to allow myself to think about something else than qualitative research methods). One could say that I’ve been prioritizing work over my passion for fiction-writing for the past month – and that does not sound nice to my ears.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who puts obligatory to-dos first instead of things I’m passionate about. But as the deadline for my thesis is closing in on me… so are the thesis-related thoughts. I just have to make a choice and that choice is, this time, to work.

So, instead of an update on Yellow Tails, how about some facts about my thesis?

I’m doing qualitative research about a relatively unknown phenomena called digital volunteers. To find out what is known about the phenomena in my country, I will be doing semi-structured interviews with local authorities and then try to find some patterns in their thinking that describes their awareness.

The deadline for my thesis is in the end of April (or, if I don’t make it then, a month later), after which I will graduate.

(At the moment, I’m in the part of the process that is, for me, the most daunting one: I have to call people and try to find authorities who would like to participate in my study and give an interview. For some people, calling up unknown folks isn’t a problem but for me it’s something I always try to postpone as long as possible.)

After I’ve found enough participants, what’s left for me to do is to interview them (which I’m not that nervous about because of my background in journalism), transcribe and analyze their answers and write write write until my thesis is done.

So… Any wonder the thesis has taken over almost everything else?

Reminder of Balance

As I wrote earlier, I’ve been frustrated and disappointed with myself because the editing process of Yellow Tails has been standing still. Last week, I even noticed some thoughts on giving up on the whole thing. The questions of Is this still worth it? Many first books don’t get published (although this isn’t my first book but third), should I just move on to the next and forget about editing this one? where actively bouncing around in my mind.

I couldn’t believe myself.

I’ve been working on this manuscript for a year now – and so quickly, so easily, I was thinking of giving up? That’s so not me! I’m no quitter and most of all, I have belief in my own story! I think Yellow Tails has something great in it and I can’t simply give up on the story because of an academic, obligatory paper. Giving up would be an incredibly shortsighted thing to do. But still, I was having these thoughts. It made me realize that somehow, my balance was off.

And that forced me to reason with myself.

In the beginning of the year, I wrote about finding balance during the year of 2019 (and onward). It’s a journey of finding the right ratio of everything, between accomplishing things and taking it easy, in understanding when you need to give your best and when it’s enough with the nearly best. But I’d like to say that finding balance is also about prioritizing.

Until now, I’ve been pushing myself to work on three projects at the same time: writing this blog, writing and editing Yellow Tails and working on my thesis. The blog-writing process has been an uncomplicated one, something I have in the system, but balancing between the other two has been tough. When I am working on Yellow Tails, my mind is constantly reminding me of the to-dos with my thesis and I feel bad. And when I am working on my thesis, my mind keeps going back to Yellow Tails and wondering how much I am dragging behind those self-imposed deadlines I have decided upon earlier this year.

I am constantly feeling bad about not working on the one while working on the other.

Therefore, I have decided to prioritize. From now on, as my thesis has an actual deadline created by other people than myself, I will give more attention to writing (and finishing) the thesis. I will continue prioritizing it as long as needed, probably for the following two months. Hopefully, this will help me lower my stress-levels, keep me from beating myself up for not doing everything I’d like to do and also, focus my energy on one thing at a time because multitasking never did any good.

However, I’m also aiming to maintain my balance. Working on Yellow Tails makes me happy and calm, and that’s why I’ve decided to dedicate one hour every day to edit the manuscript. But instead of having amount-of-work goals, I am opting for amount-of-time goals. Hopefully, this will give me the best of both projects during these up-coming months.

Keeping it Positive

Although I don’t have a passion for doing academic research or writing only things that are based on something someone else has written before and not what I think about things, I’m trying to keep a positive attitude to the whole thesis writing project.

For instance, the thing I mentioned earlier about calling: I was extremely stressed out, nervous, even horrified about calling up those authorities and talking to them about a topic they probably didn’t know about. Trying to get them say yes to an interview about something even I don’t know if it exists in Finland, was like trying to sell a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t exist yet. Talk about taking a walk outside one’s comfort zone… However, everything went fine! I begun making those calls last Friday and although I’m definitely no sales woman, I managed to find four (4) authorities that were interested to participate! That sudden gush of hope and motivation was really rewarding.

And, if nothing else, writing my thesis and being forced to stay away from my true passion for fiction writing, has helped me see what I really love to do and what I’m passionate about. We get blind so quickly, we humans. We seem to need a reminder of things we love and respect, as often as possible.

I wish you an energetic Thursday!

Still Life Sunday: The First Day of a New Life

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The First Day of a New Life

He had laid in bed for almost thirty minutes now, his eyes open, watching closely the shadows that moved on the ceiling. He felt awake, more awake than he had ever been before but something, maybe the realization itself, kept him under the blanket. The warmth gave him a sense of safety and he was almost afraid to put his bare feet on the cold wood-paneled floor. Because if he faced the cold, it would mean he accepted the mission, the new truth of life.

That was the reason to why he was still in bed: he wasn’t sure if he wanted to accept it. Was he willing to let go of his former beliefs and values and face the new, slightly colder world?

Everything around him seemed to be proof of the fact that he, actually, was ready.

Yesterday, his car had been towed away from the parking space outside his apartment after he had ignored the many parking tickets for five weeks in a row.

It was a matter of hours when the electricity would be cut off. If he would get up now, he thought to himself, he might have time to brew himself some coffee and take one last hot shower.

And everywhere his gaze focused in the room, he saw the signs of a new life waiting for him to take the first steps:

His clothes in the corner of the room were still unwashed and would stay that way until he would find the time and energy to take them to a laundromat or buy completely new ones.

His backpack, leaning against the only chair in his bedroom, smelled like mint-flavored cigarettes.

The red sneakers had muddy smudges on them, telling the tale of the most wonderful and horrifying night of his life that had happened only a few weeks ago and had been the very first chapter of his new life.

He had made an active choice to let everything go this far and he wasn’t planning on tracing his steps back. He had no intention to pay the electricity bill or get his car back. He didn’t care too much about leaving the apartment, even though it had been his home for the past ten years and held many dear memories to him.

Although everything remained, nothing was the same. Not to him, at least, not after that one night. And nothing would especially be the same, if he would get up now, face the hardness of the floor and brew one last cup of the finest espresso one could get his hands on in this town.

His smartphone beeped. One new message.

It’s time.

The words made him spring in action: without even thinking of it, his feet touched the floor, he made his bed one last time, put on his light jeans and a dark green shirt, and packed the rest of his clothes in his backpack. The process felt quick, easy and painless after the many minutes spent in doubt – the text message encouraged him to stop thinking and get moving.

For one last coffee from the former life, he walked to his fridge: instead of an espresso, a store-bought cold-brew would have to do for now. Drinking the mint-flavored coffee in large gulps, he stood for a moment looking out from the window to the street.

He saw the green van park on the space his car had been towed from only sixteen hours ago. It waited for him. It was time to leave: both physically and mentally.

A moment later, as he closed the door to the apartment behind him, he thought of the physical space he was leaving behind but also of the person he was leaving in there, trapped with the old memories, values and structures.

For each descending step, he took in his new identity and his new mission.

The front door of the green van was already open, the empty passenger seat waiting for him. He nodded to the man behind the wheel he had never seen before, placed his backpack on the floor between his feet and shut the door.

“You’re M, right?” he asked the man, somewhat nervous but at the same time exhilarated.

“Yes. And you are Mr. White”, the man answered him.

After that, they didn’t speak a word. But for Mr. White, it was enough. His new identity felt already a natural part of him. As the miles passed, he felt the old values drain from his body and a new determination fill his mind.

Mr. White wasn’t sure if he would still be alive after the mission was completed. But it didn’t matter because the new truth he had decided to take in made him feel more alive than he had ever felt before. It was better than a hot shower, a strong espresso, and clean clothes.

It was, after all, nothing less than the truth.

Still Life Sunday: Tête-à-tête

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22 Tête-à-tête

”May I open that one for you?”

The voice is friendly and the gesture accompanied by it conscious and balanced. He clearly knows what he is doing.

“I’ve got the bottle opener right here. But thanks, anyway.”

I turn him down, although that self-confidence of his feels appealing to me. He doesn’t seem to mind my refusal.

As the cork falls off and meets the table with a distinct ‘clink!’, I see him nod in an approval. Strong and independent woman, I think to myself and smile. How he analyzes my smile I don’t know but at least it makes him lean in closer – not to look at me but at the bottle.

It is a Japanese beer, blonde in color, its scent thick. Earlier that day, when I had walked to the liquor store without knowing what I was searching for, my eyes had focused on this specific beer for two reasons. First, the owl was cute and reminded me of those zen-like Japanese fish that swim in ponds in a peaceful manner. And second, it was the last bottle of its kind which made me think it had to be good.

“Is that your only drink for the night?”

The voice is still friendly and I can’t read any kind of judgment in-between the lines. Even his eyes are friendly, simply curious on my choice of drink for the evening. I nod.

“I prefer quality over quantity”, I say.

A short chuckle tells me he is amused by my comment which most likely means he has understood my point. Every few minutes I can hear someone opening yet another beer can, the distinct ‘tsskr-POP’, and the laughter spirited by mass-produced lager fills the room.

I take a sip of my Japanese beer. It’s a strong one but I like the taste. Without thinking about it, I offer the bottle to the stranger who has a friendly voice, conscious gestures and a curious look. He takes it, thanks for the offer and takes a sip.

“It’s good”, he says. “You have good taste in beer.”

I give him a short nod and a smile.

“This owl… it reminds me of Japanese koi. Do you know them?” He continues without waiting for an answer. “Did you know that they have an average lifespan of 40 years? The age can be determined by testing the Koi’s scales because they produce growth rings like trees.”

He’s good, I must admit that. He knows precisely the right words to say to get my attention, to keep me from turning my back to him and leaving in order to search for another quiet corner in the room.

So, I stay put. Take another sip, give him another nod and a smile.

That’s seems to be all he needs. And that’s all I need.

A People-Pleaser’s Autopilot

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Question: Do you know what a people-pleaser’s biggest fear is?

(Hint: it’s only one word)

The answer: No.

The biggest fear of a people-pleaser is saying ’no’ when someone asks for something, may that be a favor or a meeting. It’s the fear of creating a conflict, of provoking the person who is asking, by saying the simple but oh-so-dramatic ’no’.

I haven’t written about people-pleasing in a while. That is mostly because my life has been pretty calm and there haven’t been that many requests or favors asked of me. And it’s been nice. I’ve been able to focus on more important things, on myself, on my writing.

However, now I have something to say, something to update you on. Progress, so to say.

The Autopilot

After I decided upon quitting my people-pleasing behavior (progress that has been going on for a year or so, but the active, conscious decision was made this Summer), I’ve done pretty well saying ’no’ to many things. If I haven’t felt like doing something or meeting someone, I’ve simply declined and moved on with my life. Of course, everyone hasn’t been quite okay with me saying no to them, but I’ve tried my best to accepted that.

Instead, I’ve focused on myself, prioritized my school work, my own interests, my own time and energy. They have come in the first place while favors and other things have come second.

However, there is a thing here: all the favors and meetings have been asked by friends and acquaintances. When the people asking for favors are part of my family, it’s a whole different story.

When they call and ask for something, it feels like I turn on an autopilot mode. I don’t even consider saying ’no’ to them because I’m already thinking how I can say ’yes’ to the thing they are asking. It’s insane – and still it happens.

Let me give you an example.

Last week, I was extremely focused on finishing the theory part of my thesis before the deadline on Friday. I invested huge chunks of time writing it in the library and prioritized the thesis over everything else (except my creative writing and habits). On Monday, my mother called. She asked if I could to do her a favor on Wednesday, two days before the deadline. It was something that would probably take a few hours of my afternoon. It would help her a good deal, she said.

While holding the phone to my ear, I already knew what my answer should be. I knew I should say ’no’ to her. I knew that I needed all the time I had scheduled for my thesis-writing that week and if I’d spend ”a few hours of my afternoon” executing that favor, it would definitely put me behind my work. I’d probably even miss my deadline. In addition to that, I knew the favor wouldn’t take only a few hours. I would put down energy and time before that favor (whether I wanted to or not), waiting for it to happen, and I would probably need a good deal of time for the after-effects of that favor, processing the experience and my thoughts about it.

In other words, the favor wouldn’t take only a few hours of my time. Instead of two hours, it would probably take five or six hours of my day, most likely the whole day.

While on the phone, I was aware of all this. I knew I was supposed to say ’no’ because it would have been the right thing to do for myself. It was my deadline, my biggest and most important essay for school, I needed to make that deadline in order to get onward in my life.

But here’s the thing: a people-pleaser never puts herself first. She always thinks of others before she thinks of herself. And this is why, while my mother explained something on the phone, my brain started going through these thoughts:

”Maybe I’d be able to get everything done before the deadline if I just re-scheduled my creative writing or postponed it altogether, prioritizing my thesis instead of Yellow Tails. After all, Yellow Tails doesn’t have to get done as soon as possible, even though I’d like to finish the first draft as soon as possible.”

”Even if I don’t make it to the deadline, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. I could probably ask for more time, say I only need a few days more if it were okay. I could finish the theory during the weekend. Yellow Tails could wait.”

In retrospect, what amazes me is that I had a one hundred percent valid excuse to say no to my mother’s request and I knew it. I knew it – and still I was doing some serious B-planning in that moment! I was actually considering putting a favor in the first place, and letting my thesis, my novel, my personal well-being take the second place.

Now, a week after that phone call, I wonder how could I even consider it. But I did. It was so close that I would have said ’yes’. However, I managed to say that I needed to check my calendar first. I’d call her later that evening.

So, hello. I’m H.E.R., a recovering people-pleaser who almost relapsed last week.

Two Realizations

That phone call last week made me realize that my family truly is the weak point of the people-pleasing side of me. The members of my family are the people who trigger that people-pleasing behavior in me and even take it to the next level, the insane level.

It isn’t any wonder that it’s my parents and my sisters who trigger the behavior in me. The people-pleasing habits of an individual are often created in one’s childhood. As children, we want to please the people we love in order to avoid conflicts and not add to the burden. I recognize myself there – I never wanted to add to my parents burden. Therefore, I was always the kind, trouble-free, helpful, well-behaving child. The one, who always had the time and energy to help others out.

And now I’m paying for that.

The happenings last week helped me realize another thing as well: my role in the family has always been to be that person who gives her time and attention to the other members of the family. I have always been that person who helps out, listens and does favors. I never ask anything for myself, in order to not add to the burden. I manage everything myself, but when someone needs my help, needs to lend my ears, my attention – count me in, I’ll be there.

Until now.

Saying ’No’

It’s a tough boggart to fight. It’s tough saying ’no’ to one’s family – after all, haven’t they done so much for you? Haven’t they always taken care of you, helped out when needed? Wouldn’t saying ’no’ be ungrateful?

The answer: no.

It’s tough to say ’no’ because you know it will provoke a conflict, questions about your attitude, your behavior. Your family will remember that you said ’no’ – and they will remind you of it later.

It’s even tougher to decline when I know my family doesn’t understand that me saying ’no’ is actually completely normal – they’re not just used to it.

Despite all this, the answer is: no.

Saying ’no’ is the only option I have if I wish to quit this kind of behavior once and for all. It was my family that brought up that behavior in me when I was a child and they are the people who trigger the behavior in me today. Saying ’no’ to my parents and my sisters, when it feels like I’m doing wrong towards myself in order to please them, is the only right thing to do if I want to stop pleasing other people.

It’s a battle I must take on. I want to be the kind of person who holds on to her own values and uses her time and energy on her own terms. A person who respects herself and who doesn’t recognize an autopilot mode when it comes to doing favors.

And that is why I told my mother I couldn’t do her the favor she asked for. I didn’t say it in the moment, on the phone, but later that evening as I had promised I would tell her when I got home. It was already late when I got home so I sent her a text message, explaining about my deadline and how important it was for me to use every hour I had to be able to meet it.

If she understood what I tried to say and if she respected my effort, I don’t know. She only informed me the next day that she had managed to get someone else to do the favor. I was left with mixed feelings, but in retrospect, I’m proud I said no. Because now I know it’ll be easier to do the same next time.

(And yes: there will be a next time.)