The deep, emotional stuff World topics

Every day is your birthday!

Judging by the amount of articles and notes shared on social media telling people what to do or not to do before turning 30, turning 30 must be a big deal.

The beauty of the 21st century is that we can read advice and stories and seemingly easy share in the lives of people on the other side of the globe in real-time. But we have to “pick and peel” ourselves. We have to do the work, after all it’s our life. Thank God

Yes, I did turn 30 at some point this year. I’m part of the older half of the planet’s population.

Sitting on a beautiful beach on the afternoon of my birthday, I was reflecting if there is any way of summarizing what I’ve learned in these 30 years. Impossible, but let’s try!

“When the rain washes you clear, you’ll know”

Living abroad has challenged everything I thought was true. My months and years in Poland, India, Kenya, Uganda and the UK have taught me more than university and books ever could.

Every time I arrived at a new place, integrated and finally left, the more layers of colour were washed off. Sometimes literal rain, often a conversation or an incident, but mostly listening, watching, having to act and failing or succeeding, washing clear can be painful but liberating.

But again – after all the washing off you have to chose what to paint back on. What does Manuela stand for?

I am more than a walking photo album displaying my trips. Strangers commenting “I’m jealous” on your status updates. Not a warm feeling!

My challenge is to be an active world citizen with a clear profile and a purpose doing justice to what I’ve experienced and to those who I’ve met. Work in progress!

It’s a worthy challenge to be the same person between 9am and 6pm as between 6pm and 9am.

Whenever I live my personal values at work and home, I experience integrity and feel alive.

Most of us have to earn an income to afford their preferred lifestyle. And independence doesn’t come easy. Once you have to budget, you have to make choices. It’s tempting to sell your 40 hours a week and join the cycle of earning and consumption.

But I want to use these 40 hours a week for something I believe in. Well, for now I can. About the luxury of the pursuit of meaning at work read my next post.

Digging deeper – easier together!

Knowing yourself, managing emotions and communicating your opinions and needs clearly – do these sound like simple soft skills? Well, at least not to me. Emotional roller-coasters, indecisiveness and self-centered behavior happen to the best of us!

My best step of this year was to get a fabulous coach – a person to help unleash my professional effectiveness and help me achieve ‘flow’. Finding somebody who is committed and skilled to ask you the right questions and challenge your assumptions – priceless. I can only recommend it!

Scuba Diving is better than expected

I mean really. I was scared of doing it. 6 metres under the water for 15 minutes breathing oxygen from a bottle with 15 kgs of equipment around my waist? To watch fish? Panic zone!

How often do I try out things that I’m scared of and they end up being mind-blowingly amazing? Quite a few times… but definitely not often enough!

God exists, but you have to believe

I know God exists because I’ve seen him do wonders, met his angels and his devils. Jesus calls me every day and I’m trying to hear it. I’m thankful to all who have helped to strengthen my faith. God has watched over me and his promise lasts.

Love is a verb not a feeling – What an idea to wrap my head around!

Anything for my friends – My friends inspire me, together we come up with great ideas and we make each others lives human and worth living. And the best thing about growing up is to realize that your parents are your friends as well!

A Chinese fortune cookie last year included a note “A friendship that can end, has never really started”.

To those who have taken me to the doctor; To those who were hospitable when I was in trouble; To those with whom I laugh, cry and relax; To those who’ve cried, laughed and relaxed in my presence:
I promise we’ll be ghost friends after we die and we’ll walk through walls and scare the sh*t out of people!

Every day is your birthday

Birthday-week is a great concept, who doesn’t want to celebrate the gift of life a whole week? But how about birthday-year!?

Let’s not wait for New Year’s Eve, or lent or our birthday to change a habit. John Covey suggests “If you’ve made a mistake, admit it and correct it, so that it doesn’t have power over the next moment.” Any day and any minute is a good day to try out something new, to dare that change, small or big.

My amazing flatmates put up a paper garland saying “Happy Birthday” on my door. I left it there, as a reminder!

World topics

Not Monday again! <- is this you?

People approach me saying that they just don’t feel effective at work, drained or stressed.

This post is a collection of questions for those who want to take a first step to change something, knowing they have to take control: of their feelings and maybe even of the actual situation at work.

Sometimes it looks like everyone else is happier in life and has a more fulfilled work life. Have you ever felt that way?

It seems that social media influences the way we see our lives by drawing comparisons and building unrealistic expectations. So do look beyond the status updates of job lovers and business trip beach pictures 😉

The other thing is also that we may be the first generation that studies abroad and visits over 10 countries before we’re 30. While the world is open to us we’re also “Generation Internship” and facing threats like a massive demographic shift and global climate change. This leads to many feeling insecure and worried about life and the future.
Could this be the case for you?

I think every generation grows with the tasks presented to them.
Past generations rarely looked for meaning and fulfillment. Work was there to earn income to sustain life and if it didn’t harm your health it was a good job. This is the case for a few billion people in the world today as well. My flatmate calls a meaningful job a luxury.

Do you think that you are entitled to a happy work life?

In this post I’ve collected a few reflection tools, ideas and links on how to deal with the worries related to your work life.
I’m no expert by all means, please take this as friendly advice rather than professional.

Start by bringing your expectations to surface. My great coach recently asked me: “What did you hire your job for?” Bamm! I had to think about that.
It was also surprising to see the diverse answers even among my relatively homogeneous friends. So start by increasing clarity of what you are hiring your job for.
Honestly, take a pen and paper and write that down first: What are the roles that you want your work to play in your life?

Only read further once you’re done – then possibly extend your list. (We’ll call this wish list later on in the article).

How important is the salary for you (right now and in the future)?
What does the sector of work and/or the brand of your employer mean to you?
Are you looking for a higher meaning in your work?
If you could chose between fixed vs flexible working hours, what would you do?
Are you looking for long term predictability?
Are colleagues on your list and what do you expect from them?

With this new self-awareness analyse your current work:
On a scale from 0 to 10 how much are you looking forward to going to work on an average Monday?
(Don’t get this wrong. Work isn’t  watching football and many people won’t reach the ten)

Be spontaneous but do write down your answer as a digit. (We’ll call this ‘rating’ from now).
Then put more thought into the following two questions:

What are the things I look forward to? What’s cool about my job? (Those things that make the points over zero)

Write a full exhaustive list (even with a two!) before thinking about:
What are the things I am missing? What would make me enjoy my work life more? (Those things that are missing to a ten or at least a solid eight)

Take your time to think through this. These are your building blocks on your way to improvement!

Is leaving an option?
If you have a low rating and the work doesn’t tick many of your boxes on your wish list you may be tempted to think of leaving.

Sometimes a new job is the best solution and just takes a leap of courage. Sometimes it’s not an option for various reasons.

Remember that leaving may not solve all your challenges especially if you take ‘baggage’ to the new company (like high expectations, emotional instability, lack of communication skills, low awareness of own skills). It’s worth considering how a new start may help you leave behind baggage or whether you need to clean the house first

Explore other options available to you in the same company: a new department (sooner or later), a clearing conversation with your boss or a part-time arrangement leaving time for your own business are only some of them.

Your wish list and a critical view on the job market using networks and experts can help tremendously!

Become a stronger contributor:

If you are hired and you want to stay you need to answer the question why you were hired – into the company (possibly years ago) but also on the current role/project.
Have you ever been told? What do your colleagues and bosses value in you?  What responsibilities do you take and which skills/experience/personality are expected from you?
Try to think like your boss and write down their perspective. If you honestly don’t know, the best will be to find out from them. Unspoken expectations can cause friction.

Secondly come back to yourself and reflect on your fit on the role.
What do you think are your strengths? Are you using them in your role? Why not?
Do your colleagues and bosses know about these strengths? Why not?

Of course now you need to figure out how you can do more of the things you’re good at and more of those that you enjoy doing. Think of ways to put more of such tasks in your 40 hours a week that could make sense from your and your bosses perspective.

Also look at the list of expectations from your company to you: Are there any that you can’t fulfill? Has that brought challenges so far? How could you deal with this discrepancy in the future?

Feeling out of control?
This is a great article about focusing on doing things you can control! This will slowly help you rebuild your confidence and you will gain more control of situations in which you would previously feel tossed around.

Make a plan on how you will increase the rating by at least 1-2 points in the next 3 months.
Write down a couple of ideas, especially some bold ones (why not ask the boss-boss for mentorship over lunch if networking is on your wish list?)

Also write some solid and performance-related ideas which are easier to implement, like asking for feedback on a monthly base or making sure you speak at least x minutes in any team meeting.

Show this plan to somebody. Ask for their support and also ask them to track your progress regularly. Make sure that whatever you write in your plan is achievable and puts you more in control over your current and future work life.

But – if you’re feeling a depression creeping up, a constant fear of the future or a loss of sanity over your job please get professional help: a coach, a psychologist or a counselor. They can help you figure out how to tackle things further and whether your mental or emotional life could be at risk. A first session could be free or can be available for 40-80 Euros.

Establish clear boundaries between work and private life to empower both aspects.
Sometimes people mix up different aspects of their life, transfer emotions and end up feeling out of control and expectations spiral up. The following questions can help you establish whether other parts of your life need empowerment as well.

Do you enjoy living in your city? Would you be comfortable telling your own 20-year-old self how you spend your free time? Is your flat comfortable and gives you space (physically, emotionally and mentally)? Are your core relationships healthy or have you neglected setting boundaries with those close around you? Do you have a good balance of relaxation and challenge/adventure? Do you get enough workout, fresh air and spiritual nurturing? Do you have creative hobbies or do you mainly consume opinions or entertainment in your free time? How much do you love yourself and show yourself love?

To understand such a mix-up we can easily imagine a person who starts a new job and after a few months feels less happy and fulfilled. 
Is something wrong with the new job or is it the fact that he/she stopped cycling every day and now spends more time sitting in the car instead? You want to treat the rotten tooth and not its neighbor.

Time for action?
However your reactions to my post and your reflections may look like: Be loving and gentle to yourself. Reward your own effort and stay committed to what you are trying to achieve.

I’d like to close with a recent quote of my friend Tatenda, who as a Zimbabwean and Pan-African truly understands economic challenges and their effects on individuals and communities and who as a social entrepreneur is a role model for many African Gen Ys.
“Have a passion for your work. If your work is meaningful to you, your work life will be a joy. If you can’t be passionate about the work itself, be passionate about the reason you do it. Maybe you don’t love your job/company/career, but the money and benefits are good for your family. Be passionate in your choice to do right for your family.”

A few recommended readings:
* non-violent communication is a concept enabling you to understand how your needs and feelings relate and to learn how to be more in charge of them than the other way round.
* Seven habits of highly effective people
* About the pursuit of meaning and happiness

Looking forward to your comments!

World topics

London and the Need for Talking

This article will make some of you smile others frown. It is about returning to Western Europe, highly industrialized countries, “the first world”. I stayed in Africa during the last three years. I was often asked whether I am not scared of losing my IT knowledge or becoming “slow” or how I can live in “such” conditions. Obviously such questions already show the asker’s low understanding of my motivations. But even more does it give insight into the image that exists of “Africans” (I really have to put this into quotes having experienced the diversity that exists in the continent). Africans take their time, talk a lot with their neighbors and family, are never in a hurry to get something done and talk about difficulties rather than solving them. So far we “know”. This post focuses on the talking bit of the African culture and the importance of togetherness. Actually this post is about the absence of the two in London… Let’s look at your typical day. Waking up in your room, no sharing needed, you deserve privacy and your salary can afford it! Lights and shower work perfectly, no reason to complain. Your smart phone synchronizes the news and your mail, now just a quick Coffee to go in the corner shop. The shop attendant talks in Hindi with the Guy filling the shelves. “1,20″ really doesn’t require an answer, but your coffee is done before you arrive at the bus stop. You “touch in” your oyster card, but the loud beep and the driver’s shaking head tells you that your ticket expired and, yeah, you can’t buy bus tickets on the bus. You decide you can walk the two stops, at the tube station you extend your weekly transport pass on the machine. At least the touch screen doesn’t look at you compassionately like the old lady when you had to get off the bus. Half an hour later your day seems to have stabilized. Nothing really exciting on the news, so you start scrolling through your mail. You are used to the pushing and polite “excuse me”s on the tube. On entering the office building, this girl greets you on the corridor, she must be new here. Work is going good, emails, reports and one team meeting. A bit annoying is Anna’s new ringtone, she seems to be using her 1000 free texts well. During lunch break you head for a quick shopping tour through Sainsbury’s, these self-checkout terminals are much faster than the usual cashiers! At 5.30pm the cleaning lady looks at you with tired eyes. Finally home, you watch some soaps, the catch-up of the television is cool but ordering movies on Sky is cheap and convenient. You decide to shop for birthday presents on Amazon before you sleep… This summary of my 3 weeks in London shows how technology facilitates life here and also the process-orientation that has taken over: People are used to fitting into the process and the process makes the world go round. If you don’t force it, every day will look like the other and you will not need to talk a single word in 24 hours. Maybe I became slow… But give yourself a break, a small reason to talk and return my greeting on the corridor tomorrow! Oh, and the first sentence that was directed at me today was the “I just wanted to tell you that I like your hairstyle” of a shop assistant. He was black.

World topics

A new job, a new city!

And within the first two weeks I already realized that London is different from other cities. Very international and somehow magnetic to people with non-conventional lifestyles.

When I am reading books on Business Models, the Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Social Innovation or Unreasonable People on the Tube, people look me and smile (knowingly?). The other day I was waiting at the doctor and somebody just randomly approached me to tell me that he is opening a social business on healthy food. Universities in the UK were amongst the first to offer Masters Programs on Social Entrepreneurship.

In the next months and years I will have some time to get to know London’s Social Business Scene.

My new job at edge.

My next moves in London.

Stay tuned.

The deep, emotional stuff World topics

Some Saturday morning magic in Nairobi

Sometimes I’m asked why Nairobi. It’s these Saturday morning things: An old muslim mzee cycling by, a massai dressed in colourful blankets, a rasta sitting on the bus next to a woman with a church headscarf. A stranger taking a boy on his lap because there’s no free seat, adolescent writers telling the interviewer on radio that they write life advice books to inspire people who feel challenges to not waste their lives on drugs.
People are so expressive and human