Revive your magic spell

Get inspired by Hermann Hesse to draw the most colourful hopes and dreams on your white canvas of unknowing

When was the last time you saw your life full of opportunities? Can you recall a day when the world seemed to lay to your feet ready to be conquered? Often this happens when we face a situation for the first time. We have no idea what could happen but inwardly we vibrantly seek the new opportunities incorporated.

On this white canvas of unknowing our imagination can draw the most colourful hopes and dreams.

For me, such a moment is the first day after moving to a new city. Every street is new, every sound unfamiliar, each walk an exploration. Discovering the cutest hideaway-café, exploring the mysterious parks and enjoying the cities’ architecture are adventures to be experienced.

Same is true for the first day in a new job, a freshborn relationship with the significant other and with a new year.

We pause. Step back. Take a look. And think.

What do I dream of? What do I hope for?

Often I get reminded of an old German poem by Hermann Hesse. It states “each new beginning enfolds a magic spell, which protects us and helps us to live“.

Und jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne,
Der uns beschützt und der uns hilft, zu leben.

Hermann Hesse, Stufen

A new beginning is special for the human soul. Somehow we all long for this moment when we can start anew. We get fascinated by an untouched snowfield with its sparkling white cover. The first sunbeams in the morning that are tickling the waft of mist over dark ground.

These special first moments we remember easily. In Detail. And Slow-Motion. The magic spell is at work.

With the new year at hand let the magic spell be active in your life again and start dreaming for the upcoming months. What would you like to discover? Who do you want to meet? Where do you want to travel?

And last but not least:

When was the last time you experienced something for the first time?

Maybe it’s about time.

Will your tombstone inspire others?

Make sure your name is associated with positive attributes that people love to remember.

Lately I had a chat with a colleague coming from another continent – consequently having an unfamiliar name to an European ear. Immediately he was offering a German name as substitute. Since the name was so special – lets say old-school – I asked him laughing why he had chosen it. “Easy”, he said, “I went jogging on the graveyard regularly and I saw that particular name so often on tombstones that I got inspired to pick it for myself.” 

“Wow. Inspired by a tombstone”, I thought – not sure whether to be impressed or awkwardly moved. 

And then my thoughts began to wander… what will be written on my tombstone when the day of tombstone-necessity comes? Will it be inspiring? With what characteristics do I want to be remembered? 

While I continued thinking, I realized that positive remembrance is not limited to death – actually I can recall several leaders in my life whose major attributes I easily can determine and whose attitude impressed me in a way that I wanted to be like them in that particular behavior. If I had to sum up what made them special, most certainly I put on the list: authentic behavior, a trustworthy charisma and interest in people. 

Authentic Behavior 

Despite the fact that I didn’t like all facets of my leaders, I could always rely on their authenticity. The mixture of strengths and flaws made them unique, approachable and – simply put – human. They used to communicate when they were having a bad day. So it was easy to know that a more quiet behavior didn’t mean that there is a problem around. 

In addition, all of them had a basic set of behaviour you could rely on. They were approachable for team members, always open-minded and friendly. One leader put it this simple: don’t scream at people and don’t throw stuff. 

Don’t scream at people and don’t throw stuff. 

A Leader

Trustworthy Charisma 

People I can recall as influential leaders in my life all had a certain charisma. I don’t think of an unspecific atmosphere or esoteric type of feeling, but rather a respect that rose in people who have worked with these people over a longer period of time. Foremost this respect was fueled by a predictability of the leaders behaviour. Everyone knew how this person would react to a specific situation (mainly calm, well-thought-through but clear), and this predictability would allow team members to take decisions. Team members could predict whether they will have the backing of their boss – and this led to freedom, respect and trust. 

Interest in people

Last but not least, leaders I recall as inspiring always had an interest in me. And in others. They “saw” their team and spoke to people on an individual level. It’s probably one of the hardest parts – having an intense job with extreme responsibilities and still take time to show interest in people. To stop at the coffee kitchen for 30 seconds just to ask how it is going or to pad someone shoulder for great work the day before. 

But if you think back – you remember the names of exactly those people. People who saw you. People who were interested in you and your well-being. 

And even when their names will be written on a tombstone, they will be remembered.

Deal with your pain to become a more successful leader

Walk through the storms of the aftermath to become a restored person with more depth

Are you familiar with the ice cold grip that surrounds your heart the moment a hope or dream comes to an end? 

Do you know the darkness that clouds your vision leaving you clueless how to survive until the next day? 

It happens in an instant. You get that call. You read that note. One little information and your world falls apart. 

In the first days and weeks your brain goes on autopilot – somehow. You manage not to stink too much, to change your cloth regularly, sleep every once in a while and maybe nourish your body. You are in a tunnel, trying to survive, trying to get away from that painful information. Your reality is changed to a new setting that you neither invited nor created. 

Eventually you come to the moment when the first shock decreases and you realize you have to do something to get out of the pit that you have been thrown into. If you are at that point, most likely you want to change your life immediately! Now! Pronto!

And this is a very critical stage where you have to make a decision whether you just want to cover the pain with better feelings or if you want to heal and be fully restored.  

I encourage you to take the longer and more painful way to walk through your emotions, give yourself a chance to heal and become a restored person. Most likely you will find some sort of purpose of the painful experience at the end of your journey. At least this is what I have experienced and seen in lives of people facing the storm of their emotions. 

How do I walk through the storm? 

This is where the romance is put aside and the uncool stuff is settling in. A mentor told me, it will require 3 things: Talk, Tears and Time. This is when you cannot buy a quick fix or take the shortcut. This is when you need to decide walking. Walk with me. 

Talk

Wrap your emotions in words. Speak about your scattered hopes, your unfulfilled expectations, the unbearable sadness. Talk to people who you trust – maybe even a professional – and speak about your feelings. I emphasize: speak. about. your. feelings. 

This is not some lullaby-talk of a emotional-driven Johnny head-in-the-air. This is the real stuff. The hard way to get your scattered heart healed. Find words that describe what you feel. Anger? Hate? Sadness? Desperation? Take the effort and talk. Off limits. Everything can be said. 

Every time you talk about your situation, your brain is forced to concentrate and to put the spinning mind into proper sentences with subject verb object. This structure helps. It sets a stop to the chaos in your head.

Same is true for writing: pin your thoughts to paper. Every time you feel overwhelmed, get a pen and start writing. Maybe a letter to an imaginary friend, to a loved one or even to God. The addressee doesn’t matter – it is a vehicle to get you into structuring your thoughts. Shortly after starting to write you will experience a calmness, because your thoughts cannot go quicker than your pen on paper. 

Tears

Get ready to cry! If you think, you already cried more than enough for a lifetime during the first days of shock … get ready to experience another level. Same is true, if you didn’t cry at all during the shock phase. The road ahead runs by a river. 

It is quite interesting that to the brain any type of pain is processed the same. Hence, it doesn’t matter whether your leg or your heart is broken – for your brain the signals regarding severe pain will be the same. This is why we actually can feel loss and heartbreak. There is actual pain. 

In consequence, there are actual tears. If you break your leg while skiing, you probably cry due to intense pain. Same is true for emotional pain. Hence, crying is not a sign of weakness, but a scientific proven human reaction. It doesn’t have to be avoided. It actually is part of the healing process. 

Fun Fact: Psychic tears even contain a natural painkiller, called leucine enkephalin – perhaps, part of the reason why you might feel better after a good cry!

Dr. Nick Knight

Once you get used to crying, you will be more open and bold to talk about your life and feelings – even if that releases tears. And this is where the magic happens: while talking and crying over and over the same hurtful incident, the emotions are being processed. And all of a sudden you share a part of your painful past and you don’t have to cry anymore. The emotion is worked through, you made your way. The river dried. 

Time

If you didn’t like the first two advises, get ready for even worse news: you don’t know how long you will have to talk and cry until you are through.

There might be some well-meaning individuals that like to share their view on timing unasked … but don’t listen to them. Instead of thinking whether they might be right or wrong, start walking the road ahead and don’t lose time to get towards your full restoration. 

Find yourself people and situations in which you can speak openly. Have your handkerchiefs ready [take the soft ones to be nice to your skin ;)] and off you go! In addition, get into journaling daily. Each feeling, each new view, every thought needs to be written. It is like medicine to your soul. Take it daily. 

Personally, unknown timing was the toughest part for me. I like things to work my way in my timing. But this road is different. There is no sign that signals the distance ahead. You just have to walk and trust the process to work. And it works. Promised. 

What are your thoughts right now? Have you ever walked that road and want to add/emphasis/contradict anything? Or are you just somewhere on that path and need some encouragement? Leave a note – or get in contact with me. 

How to … appreciate people

Appreciation needs to be precise, immediate and honest in order to motivate and touch a person’s heart.

When I lived in the US the term “Appreciated” was used around me daily. Whenever I did something helpful, I got an “I appreciate your help” or when I hold a door for someone, a mumbled “appreciated” found its way to my ear. It only took a few days and I was so used to the term – even used it myself – that it quickly turned into an empty phrase. 

It reminds me of a chat I had the other day with a colleague, who actually got a positive comment from his project-lead but it seemed so hollow that it wasn’t perceived as honest appreciation.

So, if positive words themselves are not enough to be perceived as real appreciation what is needed? When does a person feel appreciated? 

The questions in combination highlight: there is a sender and a receiver of appreciation. Both people might perceive “appreciation” quite differently. Gary Chapman describes 5 types of how people express and receive appreciation differently [that is: receiving gifts, quality time, acts of service, physical touch and words of affirmation]. Feel free to dig deeper into these 5 types and discover how you actually receive appreciation.

In this article I will only focus on words of affirmation as a way to express and receive appreciation.

When is a positive feedback perceived as true appreciation? 

Preciseness

When you want to appreciate your team member, tell them precisely what you liked and what you want to honor. I recall team meetings after which I got a “well done” and nothing more. “Well done” is so easily said that the receiver cannot even be sure whether you mean it or not. Rather tell someone “I like how you prepared and designed the agenda”, “Thank you for investing your time to prepare for the meeting” or “I was impressed how you handled the critical client question. Well done.” The thought of a precise sentence requires much more thought of yourself and it ensures that you do not slip in a half-heartedly “appreciated”. 

Immediateness

Whenever you see a noteworthy performance, give positive feedback instantly. First of all this will ensure that you can be precise, but you also eliminate the danger of forgetting. Personally, I have decided to appreciate and encourage colleagues always, when I see something cool. Be it a good call moderation, a thought-through newsletter, a well-designed slide or just a beautiful outfit. And the result is always the same: a happy smile. Even more, if you are working with the appreciated people on a regular basis, you build a track record of trust which you will need when you have to give critical feedback at some point. Therefore: appreciate whenever possible and invest in the relationship with your team member. 

Honesty 

This might be the most crucial one. It leads to the underlying motivation of your positive words: Why do you express words of affirmation? Sadly I have met a lot of people who have learned appreciation as a “leadership tool” or even worse as a manipulation-technique. But I am convinced that this attitude backfires because you will “try” to appreciate people and won’t get any result. If you want your team member to feel appreciated, you have to be honest in your motives towards that person. To create this “feeling” of appreciation, your words must be surrounded with an acceptance of your team member or the one you are appreciating. 

I want to encourage you: Start today with uplifting, precise, immediate and honest appreciation! Invest thereby in your relationships and build up the colleagues, team members and even friends around you. I know, it needs a lot of training and thought to nail these precious appreciation moments. But the result is worth the effort. 

What do you think? What else is needed for a positive feedback to be felt as true appreciation? I am eager to get your response. 

Strong like Frida Kahlo

Find your way through loss, pain and heartbreak

FridaKahlo_BettFrida Kahlo was disabled by a severe bus accident when she was just 18 years old. The weeks and months followed she laid in bed in a stiff corset – unable to leave her bedroom herself. In order to keep her entertained, her mum put a mirror right above her face on the ceiling of her wooden bed. This was the moment Frida started to study her face intensively.

While in bed she already started drawing – on paper, even on her plaster. Later, she was able to move, visited the garden of her beautiful home “Villa Azul” daily and started to paint in her atelier. The images from the garden – the leaves, animals, atmosphere – found their way in Fridas pictures. Her likeness aswell. Fridas self drawn portraits are world known today.

Frida always wanted to have children. Sadly, she never reached the final term. Her sadness and pain found its way into her art – her way to work through her dark days.

Frida even influenced the design world despite her disability – or just say: due to her inclusion of her disability. Since she had to wear a corset daily and loved the traditional mexican culture, she decided to wear the traditional wide mexican dresses leaving her undergarment unnoticed to people around her.

Frida Kahlo rarely left her home “Villa Azul” in Coyoàcan, Mexico City, she was disabled from a young age, endured a lot of surgery and pain, managed through heartbreak, loss and unfulfilled dreams – and still influenced the world.

Let’s have a mindset like Frida.

#boots #inspiration #toughtimes #loss #pain #creativity

Who wants to get more inspiration: the replica of Frida Kahlos portraits can be seen until 6th January 2019 in Baden Baden:  http://www.kunstmuseum-gehrke-remund.org/

All pictures of this article were taken on 11th November 2018 in the Frida Kahlo Museum / Villa Azul in Mexico City with paid permission.  http://www.museofridakahlo.org.mx/en/the-blue-house/

Spread the Passion

“Wer keine Leidenschaft versprüht, sollte nicht leiten, denn beide, Freude und Frustration, stecken andere an” [Tomas Härry | Von der Kunst, andere zu führen]

> Who doesn’t spread passion, shouldn’t lead, because both, joy and frustration, infect others <

“What made your week?” is a classical opening question to my team’s weekly 30min call on Fridays. Each one shares highlights, moments of victory and situations to be thankful for.

Even after a long week I tend to leave the teamcall uplifted and strengthened because I have heard so many positive reports that my passion for my team and job is fueled again.

One Friday I thought it might be helpful to also talk about the downtimes of a week – just to lead in a balanced way.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened…

After the first person shared his/her frustration the atmosphere already shifted to the bad. It became more intense when more people shared their bad moments… until everybody was quiet and depressed within 10minutes. Uff!

I am a skilled moderator – but this team dynamic that I started was hard to handle. I always try to end the call positive – but in this case I hardly made it to sealevel before ending.

Sharing my view with a colleague, we both agreed that the question for frustration didn’t do any good at all. And will never be asked again!

When leading people, we need to be aware and conscious of what we want to achieve. As leaders we are in charge of the topics shared and the atmosphere created – including handling our very own frustrations.

So – what are we doing with the downtimes of our weeks?

For sure there need to be sessions with a team where frustrations can be adressed openly. But we must be aware that we need to be one place, talking face2face and have enough time to sort things out. We need to have time to recover from the bad emotion and work through it, so that we can leave the meeting in a good mood.

As leaders we need to work through our emotion in advance – being a good example and not crashing a whole team with our negativity. Harder done than said. But worth it when having a highly motivated team at the end.

I want to challenge and encourage to stop talking about your frustrations and instead start lifting others up, celebrate successes and bring a positive atmosphere to your team.


Pen and Paper

Whenever I enter a library or a bookshop I take a deep breath … that smell of printer color on paper, that compressed history between book covers, the pure knowledge and art on a few square meters – it all relaxes my mind and takes me into the here and now.

The here and now.

The time where we actually live. But how often are we really present!? Most of the time we ponder on the past or wonder about the future. But the here and now is sometimes hard to grasp. But how can I get into the present? And why is it worth to spend a few moments a day in the here and now?

Take a pen. Take some paper.

The beauty of writing unfolds in the moment we start to put our thoughts on paper. That’s the moment when the ideas stop spinning, when the mind needs to focus. Just start by writing down everything you are thankful for. Continue by adding everything you love doing and end with good wishes for friends and family. Easily you get into the present.

The reward is peace.

While writing you calm down. You escape all those worries about the past and fears of the future. Life gets easy since you only see the moment you are in. And in this very moment you only write. And writing is peaceful.