When Death Collects One

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(This post deals with death and suicide – no gory details, but still, please read with caution.)

We all distract ourselves from the realities of life in different ways. Some turn to Netflix to watch TV-series for an hour or two. Some spend time on social media watching what others our doing. Some go out and get active, running or playing pool or trying to escape from Escape Room in less than 60 minutes.

And some distract themselves from the realities of life by leaving it.

When a person one knows so well decides to take his own life, it forces oneself to think about the world in a very different way. And it forces oneself to think about death in a very different way.

About what led to the point of no return.

About how strong but at the same time selfish the act has been, the person has been.

Was there something I could have done differently – or how much do we actually have control over this kind of things? (the answer is: very little)

How is becomes was.

One thinks of what happens after death, if there’s a place for the deceased to go to and if that place looks like Nangijala, the land of campfires and storytelling as depicted in Astrid Lindgren’s book The Brothers Lionheart.

About how we humans consume mystery and murder novels, have no trouble watching Game of Thrones or Handmaid’s Tale where people are shot, hanged, beaten, or killed with a sword or a bow or by a monstrous beast. How we voluntarily watch people die and suffer in TV-series and movies when the reality of someone dying is so horrible. It’s a weird conflict.

And one thinks about the statistics. How both the person who passed away and oneself become a part of the statistics on (1) young people who decide to take their own lives and (2) on people who know someone who has done it. And how crap that is, especially when one knows the specific statistics in Finland.

Lastly, and this is a more consoling thought, one thinks about stoicism and how a person has no or very little control over other people’s choices. I can only appreciate this person’s will and believe he is better now.

And remember that the best cure to deal with death is to live; to be active, to try new things, meet new people, stick to what gives meaning to one’s life and remember the ones who have left this world with warmth.

Thoughts on Graduating

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I will be graduating in a few weeks.

When I get my Master’s Degree, it means that the eighteen consecutive years of my education come to an end. The journey started when I was seven years old and ends when I turn 25.

It feels weird to know that, in the future, I will be doing something completely different after such a long time of doing exams, completing reading lists and writing essays. It feels liberating, for sure, but also weird.

A new chapter is beginning. But what kind of chapter?

Six Years of Political Science

The first nine years of schooling are compulsory in Finland. After those years one can continue to high school or vocational school and after that, if one prefers, get a degree at a university or a vocational university. Both are optional but the majority decides to keep studying until they have a degree in something. Partly because it’s highly valued in the society and everyone is encouraged to get a degree, and partly because the education is free and most often of high quality.

I, too, have taken the opportunity to get a degree at a university in Finland.

My studies at the university have taken six years – but what exactly have those years entailed? Intensive studying at a library, a cup of coffee every afternoon to keep those caffeine levels high, feverish essay-writing a few hours before the deadline? Yes, sometimes. But even more than that.

Of those six years, four months were spent abroad studying Political Science and Sociology in Galway, Ireland as an exchange student. After that, I did a six-month internship at an organization. One year was spent in another city up North studying Journalism for a full year, followed by another internship at the local radio station.

During this time, I have taken up responsibilities such as being the chief editor for a magazine and been involved in different courses and trainings.

However, I’ve gained so much more than just a degree during these past six years.

Knowledge of Value

In addition to the life-changing event of meeting my partner during my studies through a friend, I’ve also developed as a person during these past years. Much of the progress has been recorded on this blog.

When I started at the university, I was depressed and only had a few routines to keep me going. I wasn’t a healthy eater, didn’t enjoy physical training that much and had difficulties getting friends at school. Looking back at that person now, six years later, I barely recognize myself. I went through a few years of therapy where I learned why I act the way I do (a development that has continued even after that), and during the past couple of years I’ve really learned to eat healthy and enjoy physical exercise.

I’ve also gained a new perspective on my life and learned to question and redefine my own values. I have a better understanding of what I want to do with my life, what and who I want to be. I discovered the pleasure of writing again after six long years of not writing.

I’m quite certain of the fact that even though these six years result in a diploma valued by the society, my personal development, and the knowledge and perspective on life and values I’ve gained are far more valuable than finishing a degree.

A bold thing to say, perhaps, but for me, it is the truth. I don’t quite know what I’ll do with a diploma – but I do know what I want to do with my life.

A New Phase

As this chapter in my life, the chapter of education, is coming to an end, I’ve been thinking about the things I’m leaving behind but also the new ones I am gaining.

Around me, I see many fellow students feeling reluctant to leave the life of a student – and for a reason. I’m leaving behind the freedom of being a student where one gets to decide when and where one studies and what courses. I’m letting go the monthly subsidies the state offers to students. And I’m letting go the daily discounted lunches and dinners with friends at student cafés.

All these things have been wonderful and I understand why many are unwilling to speed up their graduation, but I believe there is so much more to life than this comfortable, easy way of living.

Graduating will give me a different kind of freedom than the one of a student. It will also come with different kind of responsibilities. It will give me a bit more independence and a wider view on life outside the secure walls of the academic world. By graduating I am opening the world and finding out the different opportunities it has to offer.

There will be questions, there will be a harsher reality waiting for me, but I believe I’m ready for it.

Reconnecting, part II

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Another advanced election week only a month after the previous. Another 70 hours of work requiring constant alertness squeezed into seven days. Another week of stressful sleep that leaves me dizzy when the alarm clock goes off at 6.30 AM.

You could call this post Reconnecting, part II.

Why do I do the work? A good question – especially when you consider all the negative aspects of the whole thing. Why would anyone want to put oneself through that?

For the democracy?

To show my respect towards the fact that we are able to vote and it’s a great honor?

Because of the voters? The atmosphere? The politics?

Unfortunately, no.

I do it for the the money.

(Side note: I also do it for the great company – we have an awesome crew at the place where I work so I’ve had fun times as well, but money is the main reason I put myself through the week.)

I am graduating in just a few weeks – if my thesis is accepted, which I’m pretty sure will happen – and after that I am taking a break from the ordinary, day-to-day life of this work-driven society.  To be able to do that, I need money.

(I’ll tell more about my plans later.)

So, here I am: tired both physically and mentally, taking a few days break from more or less everything before diving into new projects.

Despite of that, I’m kind of happy I did this week of election work, too.

My bank account is happy and my mind a bit more free when it doesn’t have to think too much about economical things.

But most of all, the good thing about the 70 hours of work in a week is that as I haven’t been able to write during those days, my mind has still been actively thinking. Right now, my brain is filled with ideas for blog posts, fan fiction short stories and revisions on Yellow Tails and I can’t wait to get to dive into all these things.

However, right now, this is all the text I can manage to produce today. I’ll be back next week with some new thoughts on life, the future and the past. See you on Thursday!

 

 

A Friendly Reminder from Tolkien

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Every time we open the first page of an unfamiliar book or sit down to watch a new movie, we are indirectly changing our own lives. How, we do not know quite yet, but it’s certain that something will happen.

I believe that is one of the reasons why we enjoy watching films, reading books or listening to music. We are changing our lives in some ways, tweaking it little by little into a more colorful, broader view on life and ourselves.

We might gain a new perspective on life, on the world history or on a value we hold dear or knew nothing of. We learn how other people think, feel and react to different things and where their reactions take them. We become more empathetic.

In addition to that, we are reminded of what in our lives is good, what to keep, value and respect.

For me, such an experience was seeing the film Tolkien.

I didn’t know what to expect after seeing only a short teaser trailer about the film, so I just went to the movie theatre with my two sisters, sat down and opened my mind.

The film had many beautiful scenes in it and in my opinion, the film crew succeeded in depicting Tolkien’s fantasy, to explain where he found inspiration and ideas to the stories of Middle Earth.

However, the most important and valuable thing I got out of the film was two friendly reminders.

The first one was about the courage writing requires. Taking action, taking the risk to abandon many other things to be able to write and write quite seriously, to aim to become a published author – it takes courage.

It is so important for a writer to take his or her writing seriously, to believe in them and in the fact that there’s currency in my creativity. 

According to the film, without his wife Edith, Tolkien might not have begun writing The Hobbit. I wonder how the fictional world of books would look like today if Tolkien’s stories wouldn’t have seen daylight.

And that was the other reminder: how important it is for a writer (or any person, for that matter) to be surrounded by a supporting network. People or even just a person who has belief in my work, words and imagination, and who don’t think my eventual success would come on their expense.

As we walked out of the movie theater with my sisters who were talking about Tolkien’s life and how they enjoyed the non-chronological order of the scenes, I had my thoughts on what the movie told about writing and what thoughts I took with me:

The beauty of words and the meaning they can give to people.

How lucky I am to be able to write daily both fact and fiction.

And, most of all,

How incredibly lucky I am to have a partner who encourages me to write and get my writing published, to cheer me on and be happy on my behalf when I succeed.

He got a kiss when I got home.

Sweat, Strength and Tears of Happiness

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The first time I attended a yoga class, I cried.

I was 15, overweight and had had very few positive experiences in physical exercise. But doing yoga, although I wasn’t very flexible or have good core muscles, resonated with me. The calmness and the steady flow of breathing in and out in harmony with the movements did the trick and I cried out of happiness.

Even after the class as I got a searing headache I felt good, like the headache was good kind of pain that comes from doing something your body has been needing for a long time.

Aside from baseball, yoga was the first form of physical exercise I truly enjoyed. For most of my life, I had struggled with my eating and had trouble finding a sport I liked. Finding out about yoga was a relief – maybe there was a sport for me after all, a way to get fit.

However, it took a few years before I actually started doing yoga regularly.

First, I found my way to Youtube where I got started with free yoga classes from beginner and advanced to the intermediate level. After that, I managed to find a very affordable yoga class near the place I lived, and decided to participate on the beginner course of ashtanga yoga.

Diving Into The Practice

Ashtanga is a form of yoga that is dynamic and physically demanding. It builds core strength and even tones the body. During the first lesson I was delighted to hear that the yoga instructor herself had lost a good deal of weight after she began doing ashtanga regularly.

I believed that the same could apply to me if I just practiced ashtanga regularly.

I never learned to enjoy exercise when I was younger because I couldn’t find a sport I felt good at. I’ve tried water gymnastics, dancing, squash, instructed BodyPump and BodyCombat, even fencing but none of those sports resonated with me. Only running and biking have been sports that I’ve enjoy – and even then going out for a run is almost always a bit forced.

Then I found ashtanga yoga and noticed how much I enjoyed the disciplined, monotonous routine. As the series and the poses are always the same, I knew what was expected of me and could do my best, be better than last time. I could try to achieve perfection in my routine, to become as good as possible at doing the ashtanga primary series.

Despite this eager and ambitious mindset, I seldom managed to break a sweat during those lessons or get aching muscles from all the sun salutations and push-ups. I didn’t have the feeling I was developing that much as I always got stuck on those same poses, unable to get any deeper into them. And I didn’t loose any weight.

Despite of that, I kept going back.

Back To The Roots

I kept going back – until this Spring I started to question my reasons for keeping up with ashtanga. During the past couple of years I’ve been questioning almost all aspects of my life: whose company I enjoy, how I speak and what I talk about, what do I like to do, who do I want to be. But up until this Spring, I hadn’t been questioning my ashtanga practices or any other forms of sporting for that matter – until I got the opportunity to attend a yoga class at a real yoga studio.

It was a whole other experience. The atmosphere, candles, air diffusers, music, the 30°C temperature inside the classroom – it was something completely different compared to those ashtanga classes in a slightly chilly gymnasium.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been trying out yoga classes from yin yoga to hatha yoga and flow yoga. It has been nice as the calm exercises have given me an opportunity to balance out the stress caused by the thesis.

However, one class made all the difference: two weeks ago I attended a vinyasa flow class. It was a fast-paced but calm, extremely sweaty but not the kind that makes one’s heart rate skyrocket. Instead, it was pure bliss. In the end of that class, after almost ten years, I found myself holding back tears of happiness.

It was as if I had found back to the roots to the core that sparked my interest for yoga.

A New Perspective

After all the years of disciplined ashtanga practices and always somewhat forced workout sessions at the gym, I finally managed to realize something about myself. I’ve been doing the hardest, most demanding physical exercises because I act the same way in other aspects of life. I don’t go easy on myself on the work or writing projects I decide to take on. Instead, I push myself to give my very best.

But that doesn’t mean the hardest and most demanding form of working works for everything in life.

The vinyasa flow and power yoga classes I’ve attended make me sweat and give me properly aching muscles the day after, but without the pushing-my-boundaries-and-making-my heart-rate-race.

I’ve managed to find a new perspective on physical exercise that works for me: at the same time as I’m challenging myself with the different poses and the balance and core muscles yoga practices require, I’m also finding peace and calm in my exercise.

And just because the pacing is calm doesn’t mean I won’t sweat or get a good workout. After over 20 years of painful battle of finding balance between what feels good and what is good for my body, realizing this is a relief.

It’s time for me to adopt this new perspective for real and let go of punishing myself for not being the fittest runner, the dancer, the fencer, the squash-player.

Who knew calmness can equal sweat, core strength and tears of happiness?

The Right Attitude for Getting Things Done

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I’ve had this topic on my mind for some time now. Ever since February I’ve been thinking about writing this post but then something else has come up and I’ve concluded that I don’t have enough time or energy to put down the thoughts on how to get things done.

(Loving the irony here.)

This week, however, I find the timing to be right for this post. After all, I’ve just managed to write the remaining 37 pages to my thesis in just four days and finished the whole thing (at least when it comes to content), reaching a deadline I was almost certain I would miss.

Therefore, I thought I could share with you today how I manage to do things that even I have trouble believing to be able to manage.

The Great Final

Of course, I did not write all those 37 pages just for fun or because I thought I had the time to do it. I put down all that effort because the great final is finally approaching: the deadline of my Thesis.

In March, I was still doing pretty well with my academic work. I managed to do the interviews and transcribe them, just in time before I went on a trip to Tallinn which was followed by two weeks of election work squeezed into one. However, as a result of those two events, I was lagging behind in my thesis work. Seriously.

In order to make the deadline accessible again, i.e. to be able to write those pages and all those words, I decided to cancel Easter. Instead of relaxing at my parents’ summer cottage I stayed home the whole long weekend writing, eating and then writing some more. And finally, in the evening of Easter Monday I was ready to declare that I had written my thesis.

Don’t Go Easy On Yourself

The thing that made the progress possible was the fact that I decided I could do it. Getting things done and reaching those seemingly impossible goals is about finding the right attitude for it, the right kind of grit. But you certainly benefit from having some time management and organizational skills as well.

So, here are the four lessons I’ve learned while aiming to become an efficient person:

1. To-do lists

This one I’ve talked about before – but I will talk about it again because it is so important to know what you need to get done during that week of yours in order to be efficient.

The to-do list that I create every Monday morning enables me to see the program for the whole week: how much I’m planning on reading and writing; what social events I need to take into consideration and what time some certain yoga classes are being held. I can also put down the details on the specific project I want to get done: how much I need to do at certain days to reach a certain goal.

By creating a day-by-day plan for your goal of the week, you are able to prepare yourself for the amount of work that you need to do because you can already see it in front of you. The to-do list makes your work and the energy it requires more predictable – and that is exactly what you need.

For me, an activity called ’thesis work’ has been on my to-do list every day for the past few weeks. To accompany the regular to-do list, I have another to-do list dedicated for thesis work alone. That’s the list where I keep a log on how many words I’ve written and what I plan to do the next day.  For a project like this, I really need a second to-do list. And you might need one too, if your project’s big enough.

2. Prioritizing

When you’ve done the to-do list for the week, you need to decide upon what activities are the most important. Can the laundry wait for a few days in order to get your project done? Can you postpone the coffee meeting with your friend to the following week? Do you have to update Instagram three times a week this particular week or could you put those minutes into planning your project?

I, for instance, decided to prioritize writing my thesis over Easter and some family time.

If you find prioritizing challenging, you can try the Eisenhower Matrix that helps to realize what tasks are truly urgent and truly important, and what tasks are important but can be done at a later time.

By prioritizing your activities you are able to maximize your efficiency because you are giving the most urgent and important tasks the time and energy they require while letting the other things wait for another day or a whole other week.

3. Just get it done

After watching this short video by Art of Improvement about simply getting things done, I’ve really been able to become even more efficient.

One especially bad habit I used to have was to read the e-mails I got immediately but respond to them always a bit later than I should have – or could have. The same thing happened with phone calls. I always drew out the time and called people back hours later – although I was there, next to my phone, when they called.

I postponed simple activities for no proper reason, and at the same time I was wasting a lot of energy on thinking about them without doing anything to them. But then I decided on something: I decided to change my behavior and actually forced myself to answer or call back as soon as possible. Today, after months of practice, I’m pretty good at answering the phone immediately and returning e-mails as soon as possible.

And the best part of it is that I’ve become energized by my own efficiency (of doing very simple things) which has helped me get even more things done.

4. Don’t Go Easy On Yourself

This is perhaps the most important thing: if you have a project that you want to get done, keep your expectations on your performance high. Don’t put the bar low – instead, put it as high as you can.

You think you could write 20 pages this weekend? Aim for 25! Or maybe you think you have the energy to clean only half of your apartment on Friday? Decide to try to clean up the whole place and see what happens!

(Of course, this principle doesn’t work for every project but the wise man knows the exception to every rule.)

Put the bar a bit higher than the point you think you can reach, because the probability of you actually reaching that higher bar is very high. As Seth Godin says, by raising your expectations you raise your performance. And that, my friend, is how you get things done and surprise everyone around you (and yourself). That is how you write 37 pages of academic text and manage to meet your own deadline.

That is how you succeed.

 

Reconnecting

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The past seven days have gone by in a whiff. I’ve done the hours of two work weeks in just one, which means that I’m quite tired and, most of all, out of sensible things to say.

In Finland, whenever there’s an election, the actual voting day is preceded by an advanced voting which lasts a week. During that time, one can vote anywhere in Finland. This year, up to 36,1 percent of all entitled voters decided to vote in advance – and I was there to register their votes during those seven days.

(Not all of them, of course, but several thousand of them)

So, at the moment, after doing 12-hour days many days in a row, I’m just trying to rebuild my thoughts and return to my own daily routines of writing and working on my thesis. I’m reconnecting to my usual life, so to speak. That means that today, I don’t have that much to share, except maybe this one thought:

When there’s a line of voters waiting to put a number on a ballot, and that line goes on for 11 hours straight, the person registering all those votes slowly realizes how everything loses its value.

A vote so precious for the ideals of democracy becomes just a folded paper with a number on it.

The number written on that ballot, the one so precious for the candidate because it means someone is supporting him or her, becomes only a compilation of straight and curved lines, meaningless in its simplified existence.

And a signature, so valued and influential throughout history, becomes a scribble, only blue ink on paper without a beginning or an ending, meaning nothing (especially because most of the people don’t even know why they are signing the paper).

In summary: when an act is repeated over and over again, it loses its symbolic value. This holds for not only elections but anything that bears a symbolic value – from a signature to an act of kindness to a single word such as thank you.

But how to preserve that symbolic value?

See you next Thursday, readers, with some new thoughts and a reconnected, refreshed mind.