Working With Flow

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A few days ago, me and my partner got into a conversation about flow. You know flow, right? That highly enjoyable feeling of being completely absorbed and focused on one activity and everything else disappears around you?

What triggered the conversation about flow was something as simple as meal times in our household. Both me and my partner prefer routines because they make life easier and simpler as doing the same things every day in the same way requires less energy and thought compared with irregular sleeping rhythm and unplanned meals. But when flow comes into the picture and starts bossing around, me and my partner are somewhat different.

We both experience flow more or less regularly, and for me, interrupting my flow state when lunch hour is coming closer is no problem. I can stop writing then and there, maybe finish off the sentence but then save the thing and put my laptop to sleep. For my partner, however, nothing else seems to matter when he deep-dives into his thought processes and writing.

From time to time, this leads to conflicts. Most often, it’s me asking him to interrupt his flow for the sake of lunch, dinner, bedtime or any other routine we have – and it isn’t always with a happy agreement he stops writing.

But how to deal with this kind of issue? Is it completely wrong of me to ask someone to interrupt his or her flow in order to do something quite mundane? Isn’t flow like something sacred, something to value and appreciate and, most of all, not interrupt when it decides to pay a visit?

Or how are we supposed to work with the flow?

Many Can’t Afford It

Many dream of it, many seek for it – the mysterious feeling where time disappears and magic is created. But there aren’t too many who can afford to wait around for flow or for the inspiration to strike in order to work on their craft. There are of course some, but may it be painting, writing, composing or crafting, most creatives rely on every-day routines to get their work done. They learn to work with flow or without it.

For instance, in The War of Art Pressfield writes about Somerset Maugham who told a curious someone, that ”I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” And Daily Rituals by Mason Currey showed that most creatives in this world have relied on routines to get their work done.

But all who have experienced flow know that it is so much more wonderful to produce words, music or works of art when one is completely absorbed by the moment rather than relying on the everyday habit of working. Creating that comes as a result of a habit can be extremely painful at times, even forced and awful – wouldn’t one opt for creating in the state of flow rather than according the constructed routine?

And therefore, when the flow embraces us, should we for once forget about everything else and let it take over completely? For once, create in the happy, magical state of concentration where the words flow like a river and every brush of paint is perfect?

Or should we treat flow with a cold hand and say, ”Hey, you’re not here most of the time. Just because you decided to visit me today doesn’t mean I’m throwing all my routines away to adjust to your wishes”? Because what if we don’t embrace it and, instead, let it go – will it come back?

Can we afford not to take advantage of flow?

The Cutest Puppy

As I wrote in the beginning of the post, most of the time I have no trouble interrupting my flow to follow my regular routine. When I become fully focused on creating worlds and stories, I can enjoy it while it lasts and then break free from it when needed.

What I’ve noticed is that although I break free from it, the flow state comes back when the circumstances are right. For me, that is usually the moment when I have a few hours of unplanned time in front of me, there’s nothing on my to-do list and I get to return writing an enjoyable story.

So, for me flow is like a muscle, something one can train and work on in order to become better at reaching that state. Therefore, I don’t see flow as anything sacred, anything too special that one needs to discard everything when it appears.

I’d even like to think of flow as a cute little puppy you take home with you. It’s adorable, you love it and embrace it and its funny ways – but if you don’t stay in control and teach the puppy to behave from day one, it will chew your cables and furniture when you aren’t paying attention.

The flow is something greater than good, something to strive towards and embrace when it comes to you, but at the same time it shouldn’t be greeted with overly open arms. For me, it feels important to stay in control of the flow, to be able to embrace it but also to push it away when needed, in order to not feel empty when it leaves you again. Because flow is fickle and you can never really be sure when it decides to pay you a visit. Therefore, maybe one should live as if there was no flow and be pleasantly surprised when it does visit one’s creative mind?

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What are your thoughts on flow and how to deal with it?

 

A Five Star Experience

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Every morning from Monday to Friday, I take about thirty to forty-five minutes to write my journal. I reflect on how I feel, the thoughts that are running through my head and the overall mood of the day. However, for the past three days, my morning writing sessions have looked like in the picture above.

Instead of writing at our white work/dinner table at home, I have been sitting at a brown table for two. Instead of drinking my morning coffee from the grey and blue Keep-Cup, I’ve been drinking a beverage made by someone else.

As you might guess, I’ve been out of town.

A Five Star Experience

I went on a short trip initiated by my mother, and I got to choose the country, as long as it was in Europe. I didn’t want to fly and I didn’t have a need to travel very far – therefore I opted for a spa holiday on the other side of the Gulf of Finland, only a two-hour cruise away from Helsinki: the city of Tallinn in Estonia.

The hotel we stayed at was a five-star Estonian-Russian hotel. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a five star hotel but I can tell you that the place was excellent.

When we arrived, a concierge carried our luggage to our room, telling about the hotel and where we could find the spa and the restaurant. The building was old and the rooms where small but high in ceiling, at least five meters straight up. Every day, there was a new pillow mint and a bottle of water waiting for us when we returned from walking around the city.

The service was amazing and the spa was great. Because I had wanted a spa holiday, I got to choose two different treatments. On Monday, I enjoyed a whole body scrub and on Tuesday, I fell asleep during a head massage.

The hotel breakfast was healthy and good, and the staff attentive and helpful. The hotel receptionist was happy to book a table for us every night in a different restaurant, saying politely: ”Consider it done.” And on the last day when we checked out, he gave us both a bottle of water to go so that we wouldn’t go thirsty on our way back home.

But none of these things listed above became my favorite parts of the trip. Instead, it was something else.

Caffeine Confusion

Every morning after breakfast, I took my journal, walked to the lobby and sat down to write down my feelings, thoughts and reflections on the day that had gone and the one that was ahead. The hotel was quiet as the tourist season starts later in the Spring and I wasn’t disturbed by any hustle or bustle of the usual hotel life.

Every morning, as soon I started scribbling down words, the same concierge who had carried our luggage to the room the first day, would walk up to me and ask: ”Can I get you anything, maybe a coffee or a tea?”

The first morning I was so taken aback that I just said no thank you and smiled, probably looking flabbergasted by the question. But the next morning I was ready, and asked for a coffee. The third morning, I didn’t feel like drinking more coffee than I already had, so I decided to ask for a cup of tea. The conversation went something like this:

The Concierge: ”Can I get you anything, maybe a coffee or a tea?”

Me: ”Yes, please. I would like to have a tea. What different flavors do you have?”

The Concierge: ”I can’t remember them all, there are so many. There’s green tea, Earl Grey, black tea…”

Me: ”Do you have something without caffeine?”

The Concierge (looking bewildered): ”Without caffeine…?”

Me: ”Yes, without caffeine, you know, like…”

The Concierge: ”You mean decaf?”

Me: ”Yes! Decaf.”

After a moment, the concierge is back with his tray and puts on the table some milk and sugar and…

Me: ”But this is coffee?”

The Concierge: ”It’s a decaf coffee. Didn’t you want…?”

Me (realizing the mistake I had made): ”Oh, no, it’s okay. It’s decaf, that’s the important part. This is okay, thank you.”

The Concierge (smiles and laughs, still confused by the situation): ”I hope you enjoy it.”

Well, I did enjoy it. It was the first time I drank a decaf coffee and I thought it was as good as a regular cup, and I told it to the concierge when he came to check up on me later. I’d say the whole thing ended well.

(And now I know how not to order a tea without caffeine.)

Lessons Learned

Although the trip was, well, interesting to say the least, the hotel made an excellent impression on me. On most of my trips, I’ve opted for the three star accommodation because the city and the activities have been more important than the place I’ve slept in. Isn’t the city, the architecture, the cafés and the cultural experience more important than the place where I sleep?

However, this hotel was one of the things that made the trip as good as it was. The people working there, the service, the spa treatments, the food… Everything was in its place. Although I was obligated to go on this trip I really had no need for, at least I learned this:

Sometimes it really is worth every single penny to invest in accommodation while traveling because it can become the thing that makes the whole trip into a memorable experience.

(Although this time it was my mother who paid for the trip. But you get the point.)

DVD Roulette

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Last Friday after lunch, neither me or my partner felt like staying at home and doing ordinary Friday afternoon activities (which for me would’ve been transcribing thesis interviews from that week). We decided to do something else, something out of the ordinary: visit a flea market.

A few kilometers outside the city center is this huge hall where anyone can rent a booth for a week or longer and sell their possessions. The place is filled with so many odd, fascinating and sentimental objects that have become someone’s trash and are now sitting on those shelves, waiting to turn into someone’s treasure.

So, instead of transcribing and watching videos on Youtube we took my grandparent’s retro car (that still has a cassette tape player) and drove to the flea market.

Like Very Modern Museums

Walking through the long corridors and observing everything around oneself is quite interesting. The items tell so much about their previous owners – but seeing what people are selling also tells a great deal about the world around us.

The objects that no longer serve the need of their former household tell the tale about trends that once were but aren’t anymore. For instance, a year ago, the flea market booths were filled with Angry Birds brand products and other knickknacks. This year, it is all about the first models of VR headsets meant for private use and tv-series, films and books related to vampires people seem to be ready to let go of.

(We also found a Pippi Longstocking wig – apparently in some households even the most legendary children’s book characters grow old)

In a way, flea markets are like very modern museums where the collections are constantly updated. What were people interested in a year ago, two years ago? What were the trends five years ago but that have now had their peak moment and are starting to fade away, becoming a part of the past? And on the other end, what old things are people interested in, what objects are they looking for?

Flea markets show another side of the society that cannot be seen in the shopping malls: instead of always buying something new and shiny, on flea markets it’s all about respect and curiosity for old things; about new value found in second-hand products.

Many people visit flea markets because they are searching for second-hand clothes, decorative items, books to read or spare parts for some project they are working on. However, for us, flea markets have a different meaning.

Searching for Something Odd

As you know, we’ve been moving around a lot for the past three years. This has led to the point where we only own things we use often and buy only the things we really need. Therefore, when we visit a flea market, we aren’t searching for clothes, lamps, stereos or other things sold in those booths. Instead, we are on a specified mission: something we call DVD Roulette.

The idea is simple: we wander around the hall and search for DVDs people are selling. However, our search is restricted by some criteria: 1) we try to find a DVD we haven’t heard about before, 2) that is not a mainstream movie, and 3) that sounds interesting but a bit odd – something we probably wouldn’t choose if we were in the store and would have to pay full price for the movie. As these DVDs tend to cost somewhere between 50 cents and two euros, it doesn’t matter that much if the movie’s good or not. Therefore, the odds for finding a suitable movie are extremely good.

We have played the DVD Roulette twice before. Funny enough, we have never done it in the same flea market or even in the same city twice, and we’ve noticed that the selection varies greatly depending on the city.

The first time we played DVD Roulette was in a small city in a very odd flea market. We ended up picking a pretty lousy movie, a romantic comedy. But already on the second time we had better luck ( this time in a very small town and a very small flea market) and found an interesting sci-fi movie.

The third round was on Friday, and we found a film called Wonder Boys from year 2000. It was almost too mainstream to be chosen as it had famous actors in it, an Oscar-nomination for best screenplay, and the film reviews promised a ”fun, fantastic movie”. But because the flea markets today are mainly filled with mainstream movies (for instance, we found four (4) Devil Wears Prada and probably three sets of the Twilight trilogy), finding a film odd enough has become more challenging. Therefore, Wonder Boys was probably one of the best we could find, and as neither of us had heard about the film before, it felt like a good choice for this round of roulette.

Freeing the World From Objects

You might wonder why we do this sort of activity. Wouldn’t it be easier to just pick a movie online or on Netflix and skip all the searching? Well, let me explain, because there are many reasons why we enjoy the game of DVD Roulette:

First of all, we get to see a film we’ve never seen before and, as I mentioned, probably never would see if not for this activity.

Second, it is great entertainment to both search for the movie and to watch it later.

The third benefit of the game is the feeling we get: when we purchase a DVD someone doesn’t want to own anymore, we both feel like we are liberating the world from yet another semi useless object. This is because one of the rules of the DVD Roulette is that after seeing that movie we throw it away. We don’t keep it, we don’t give it to anyone or put it away into a box of things we tend to sell later. We simply discard the DVD.

Some might think it’s a questionable act, and maybe it is.

But this is how we play the game.

(I recommend you to try it the next time you’re visiting a flea market, and if you do, come back and tell me how you found the experience.)

Still Life Sunday: A Moment’s Notice

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31 A Moment’s Notice

I was in the middle of an article about the new education reform when a short clink sound of the letterbox interrupted my reading. Frowning, I looked at the table where a low pile of letters had dropped through that same letterbox only a few hours ago. Did they deliver mail twice nowadays?

Leaving the newspaper on the table, I walked out of the kitchen to the entrance hall and crouched to pick up the freshly delivered letter. The light blue envelope felt smooth under my fingers, the surface reflecting the light in the ceiling. The envelope had our address on it but the first line told it was meant for my wife to read and not for me – or us.

I turned the envelope to see if there was a return address on the backside but there wasn’t, of course not; mysterious, hand-written letters like these never had return addresses.

The letter was thick, heavy with information that was not meant for me.

There was no one in the yard and even the street looked deserted as I peeked through the window in the door. Neither the mail-carrier or the mysterious letter-carrier could be seen, but then again, of course not. Why would the person stay around to see if the letter found its receiver? If there was a doubt about it, he or she would have rung the doorbell and given it to the receiver directly to be sure. But this person didn’t; clearly, he or she was certain that the letter would be opened in the right hands.

“Darling!” I raised my voice so that it would reach my wife who was brushing her teeth in the bathroom (or more likely in the bedroom, staring out of the window naked, because that was just one of her quirky ways of being). “Come downstairs, will you?”

While waiting for her, I returned to the kitchen. The newspaper was left on the table, the political article completely forgotten. My curiosity for the letter’s content exceeded greatly the new education reform which was still in the planning phase and might not even see the light. My eyes were focused on that envelope that now leaned against the vase of colorful Spring tulips. Who had written her a letter and why?

When my wife walked into the kitchen, fastening the silk belt of her dressing gown and her brown wild hair still all over the place as it was in the mornings, her eyes locked on the letter immediately. She let out an excited shriek, as if she knew exactly what the letter held, and had been waiting for it.

“It came after the usual mail delivery”, I said and took the letter into my hands, looking at it again. “It’s for you. What is it?”

My wife walked to the table and reached out her hand towards the letter. As I gave it to her, I noticed the slight quiver of her hand and the eager way she grasped the letter. Suddenly, I felt a twinge of doubt in my chest. This letter seemed so important to her – why hadn’t she told me anything about it?

“Honey?”, I tried again, as I hadn’t gotten an answer on my question. “What is this all about?”

“Oh”, she said, her eyes gleaming with excitement as she looked at the address written on the envelope. “It’s a…”

She sighed as if she didn’t know how to explain.

“I’m getting worried”, I said and chuckled gently. “What is it, an invitation to Hogwarts?”

My wife gave a small laugh but didn’t answer. She turned the envelope and opened it gently, careful not to break the paper. I watched her take out the letter, the many pages folded in half, and followed the movement of her eyes as she began reading the words. It seemed as if she had forgotten me, as if she was completely unaware of the fact that I, her husband, was there, and had asked her question.

She stood in the middle of the kitchen, her feet bare and probably getting cold from the cool kitchen tiles which she usually disliked – but she didn’t seem to mind. Clearly, there were more important things in her mind right now. But what? The curiosity inside me was slowly turning into a worried doubt. A fear for the anonymous writer and what he or she had written on those pages my wife was now eagerly reading, page after page, was starting to get a grip of me.

I wanted to know but at the same time I wondered if I really wanted to – if I really wanted to make my life shift, because that’s what it felt like in that moment as I sat on the kitchen chair, looking at my mesmerized wife.

After five long minutes, I started getting tired of my own restlessness and my wandering eyes that tried to focus on the newspaper again but glanced at my wife’s face every fifteen seconds or so. I stood up, took the one step to my wife and covered the content of the letter with my hand. I saw the handwriting – a woman’s, surprisingly.

“What is this letter?”

My voice was harder now as restlessness had taken the place of my earlier patience. My will to understand and accept the letter and its content had turned into a steady determination to know what was written on those pages.

“Well?”

My wife seemed to be struggling with words. She seemed enchanted by the content in the letter, couldn’t take her eyes off the pages although my hand was covering it.

Just as I was about grab her arm to get her attention, her eyes focused on me.

“I’m sorry, honey, but I need to leave for a few days.”

“What?”

“Right now. I’m sorry, I really am. But I need to go and pack, I’m in a hurry.”

Her voice was filled with hopeful determination which should have meant that I had nothing to worry about. But from what I knew, I had everything to worry about. I tried to follow in my wife’s steps out to entrance hall and the stairs but she closed the door to the kitchen behind her. And although it wasn’t locked and I could’ve easily followed her, I stayed put. I felt numb, powerless against that letter. What the hell was happening? In the corner of my eye, I saw the envelope that was still on the kitchen table. I didn’t want to touch it, not even look at it. The whole thing felt cursed.

Only a minute later, I heard my wife rush down the stairs. I waited for her to come to the kitchen to explain or to say goodbye at least, but I only heard the outdoor opening, the empty coat hanger clanging a few times against the wall, and then – the outdoor closing.

I watched her from the window. She didn’t take our car. Instead, she started walking briskly down the street towards the main road, carrying with her a backpack and, on her arm, her light blue jacket.

She didn’t look back. When I couldn’t see her anymore, I felt a silence take over the entire house. I was alone and had no idea why.

Writing In Good Company

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I’ve been quite cautious about my book project. For the past year, when someone has asked me how I am or what I’ve been up to, I’ve just told them about my thesis or, well, not told them much more than ”I’m fine, how have you been?”

There’s only a handful of people out there who know about Yellow Tails (if you don’t count Instagram and this blog, of course). You might wonder why I’ve kept quiet about it, and the answer is this: I believe in the idea of silent success.

Many people announce their 30-day detox from social media or from candy or from alcohol to their friends and family in order to keep them to their word. The silent success, however, is about starting, executing and finishing a project in silence, and telling about it first when you’re done.

There are at least two good things about keeping your success to yourself: 1) the pressure and expectations comes from you, and you only, and 2) you do not have to deal with the people who have difficulties being happy for other people’s happiness and development (something I have first hand experience on, unfortunately).

But silent success wasn’t precisely what I wanted to talk about today. Rather, I’d like to write about the opposite. Being successful – and telling about it.

(But only to a few)

The Happiness of Telling

Last Tuesday, a friend of mine called me. The last time we talked was a few years ago but in a few weeks we’ll actually be working together which why she called to ask a few questions about the up-coming work week. But those questions took only a few minutes. After that she asked how I was doing, what I had been up to for the past months. I told her about the thesis – and I told her I had written a book I was now editing.

And she was so excited for me!

The best part was that she told me she’s also a writer, that she’s been writing for years, but that it’s been only a thing, not a career or anything. For me, it didn’t matter. I was simply filled with some sort of calm happiness for knowing that I had a writing friend in the same city. We had a fun conversation comparing our writing routines and how we plot or not our stories.

It really is true that writing is a lonely job and that friends who write are golden. But I don’t think one realizes it before finding a true writing friend. For me, it happened last Tuesday, and I noticed how much I’ve desired for one.

Searching for Community

After I decided to take a longer break from Instagram, which was a few months ago, it’s been quiet on the writing community side of my life. On Instagram, there were so many writers, aspiring authors and writing coaches who were there every day to cheer you on and share the happiness and pain of being a writer. But as I’m not there anymore, I haven’t really been cheered on by so many.

However, as I’m not very excited about going back to Instagram and everything it entails, I’ve been thinking about what other options I have. A writing group? A writing forum? A writing course or an entire education?

I write this blog in English and write my Master’s thesis in Swedish. However, Finnish, which is my mother tongue, is the language I write my journal in and also, my fiction. Therefore, as I’m thinking about my options, I’m restricted by my language.

Finland is a small country with only 5.5 million people. This means, at least when compared to many other countries, that there are even less writing people and that the likelihood of me finding them is, well, small. Plus, that I have no idea where to start looking if I wish to hold on to my principle of silent success.

At the moment, attending a writing course or enrolling in University for another degree, this time in creative writing, isn’t an option. I’m busy with finishing my current degree and after that I have other plans.

That leaves me with writing forums. But I’ve been reluctant to return.

Considering a Comeback

There’s nothing wrong with writing forums – it’s just that I haven’t been on one since 2011 and hadn’t thought about going back. At the time, I wrote mostly fan fiction and was all about writing love stories between Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy, Susan Bones and Terry Boot, and Lily and James Potter. Today, however, I’m not returning too eagerly to fan fiction because it feels like I’ve outgrown it. Therefore, I didn’t even think I’d have any business on those forums again.

But the call from my friend had a curious timing. Her excitement, encouragement and support for my book project gave me a boost of energy and motivation, something I didn’t experience getting from Instagram. This made me think that maybe I could return to those good old forums – but publish something original instead.

As I’ve noticed a longing for a Finnish-speaking writing group, this thought seemed to get wings the moment I decided to give it some actual thought. Ten years ago, when I was publishing at least one story per week on these forums, I got a good deal of feedback and cheers from fellow Finnish writers. But today, as I’ve been writing Yellow Tails by myself without publishing it anywhere or having anyone read it (yet), I don’t know how other people see and feel about my writing. It could do me good to write something shorter, try out different styles and in that way, develop my writing skills.

I haven’t done a comeback yet. But I did go and check if my old username still worked – it did. So maybe I’ll start drafting something in the coming weeks. Nothing too big, no full-length novels, but maybe a short one, something like the Still Life Sundays I’ve been publishing here, and see where it takes me.

After all, I’d guess a writer never turns down some feedback and writerly support from other writers?

***

Where do you publish your writing?

Still Life Sunday: The Staring Contest

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30 The Staring Contest

“It is told that Archimedes was taking a bath when he realized that the volume of irregular objects could be measured”, I tell to the backs of the students sitting in the classroom.

Then I prepare myself to sprint from the back of the classroom to the front, saying – – “And this made him leap out of his bath tub and run naked through the streets of Syracuse yelling Eureka! Eureka!” – – the last two words come out as a yell which makes some of the sleepier students jerk back in their chairs in surprise.

As I halt into a stop right before hitting the blackboard, I get a surprised laugh from my audience of 8th graders. I chuckle. The Eureka sprint works every time, and every time I feel a small sense of pride of the fact that I’m able to make someone as dull as Archimedes of Syracuse into a memorable, impressive character.

The same love that I feel for natural sciences can rarely be seen on the faces of these acne-colored, insecure faces of teenagers who sit here simply because they have no other alternative. Many of these kids couldn’t care less about Archimedes, Einstein or even Hawking – but they have to because the state and the school curriculum dictate so.

Therefore, the best thing I can do for these youngsters is to make these classes on electrons and neurons and what-else into something fun and memorable.

“This discovery helped Archimedes friend Hiero detect a goldsmith’s fraud. The bastard was supposed to make a crown out of pure gold but had replaced some of it with silver. Thanks to Archimedes and his method, the poor goldsmith probably lost his life.”

Once again, I’m able to trigger some smiles and even laughter. But I can feel how I’m already losing my crowd: the wandering or glazed gaze, the restless hands already starting to close books and putting away pencil cases, prepared to escape the room the second the clock rings. There’s only five minutes left of this class, so I’d say it’s understandable.

However, in this group, there are two girls whose gaze never leave me during the class. They never pack their bags before the class actually ends. Even now, with only a few minutes left of the class, they sit still and observe me.

They might not be the brightest future physicians of the group but they are the only ones who actually focus on what I try to teach. Their gaze is only lost when they scribble long notes to each other – probably boy trouble, the desperate search for Prince Charming, and when he is found, the constant questions about what this and that means. Although they shouldn’t, I let it happen. They are teenagers, after all.

Especially the other girl, the slightly less talented of the two, has an especially intense gaze I’m not able to look away from once I get caught. Her eyes follow mine as I walk around the classroom and mine follows hers when she gets distracted. And then, when I stand in front of the class and she’s paying attention, we lock eyes again and don’t let go.

I’m aware that our eye contact can be interpreted in many different ways, some of them less fortunate. But her gaze is truly active compared with all the other kids in this class, and I’m drawn to those eyes because of that. I’m searching for an active listener, and she pays attention; is actively present here in this class room. For me, that’s exactly what I need to keep on going with my goofy interpretations of Archimedes and other famous people.

I am not making up these entertaining scenes for her, for sure, although her smile brightens up her whole appearance. But kids like her make me feel like I’m not doing it all for nothing. Kids like her make me feel as if I’m making a difference; I’m making learning difficult things fun.

“So, from now on, if you hear someone yelling ‘Eureka!’, you can tell them to take their clothes off to make the discovery even more authentic.”

Then the bell rings, the classroom fills with movement and the rustling sound of paper as if I had pressed a magic button that defrosted them all. Many of the students wave goodbye and leave – the last joke hasn’t made its way through their brain because of the ticking clock on the wall. But I get a smile, from whom else but the most attentive student in the class.

“See you on Thursday!” she says, the smile still bright. I wave, smile and then focus my gaze to my notes on the table. I’m finally able to draw a breath and recover from that intense staring contest of the past 45 minutes. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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?

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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?