dinsdag 12 augustus 2014

Lights out

It was on the news today. Robin Williams died, aged only 63. And it looks like he probably committed suicide. Reading the news filled me with tremendous sadness.

He was one of the funniest people I knew. Not personally of course, but he has made me laugh ever since he played Mork in " Mork and Mindy", back in the seventies.  Movies like " Mrs. Doubtfire", " Good Will Hunting", " Good Morning Vietnam" made me cry and taught me a lot about what really matters in life. I have seen his stand up comedy many times, and his " How Scotsmen invented golf" has pulled me through many a rough moment in my life because no matter how often I saw it, it made me laugh until it hurt and forget about the misery I was in. Apart from the fact he was a great comedian and wonderful actor he always struck me as genuine. making the world a better place with his many talents. Building bridges between people. The world has lost a remarkable person.

It made me think. Why is it, that so many true stars have to die this way.  Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, to name just a few but the list is so, so much longer. It is almost as if great talent over time becomes a burden that is impossible to bear.

In spite of all the money and fame, or maybe even: because of all the money and fame. Maybe it is the audience that puts so much pressure on them they eventually collapse under it.

Maybe it's something else. Looking at the skies I remembered my astronomy lessons from school. What happens to those stars when they are past their productive stage? Well.. one of two things basically. Smaller stars will turn into white dwarves. But the big ones.. a supernova will take place and the rest of the material will condense into a black hole. 

Maybe that is what is happening to our truly big human stars, too. They don't fade away like the white dwarf stars of the skies. They, quite literally, go with a bang. And maybe that is not such a bad thing, especially not if it was their own choice. It's better to burn up than to fade away. 

And just like the stars of the skies, we can still see them long after they are gone. Their light still travels through space, even if the source is long gone. And as such, death is a relative thing.
Thank you Mr. Williams, for having been a light in my life on many occasions. Here we go, one more time.

woensdag 16 juli 2014

50

Two weeks ago, I turned 50. Which wasn't a big deal at all to me, but people kept telling me it is a milestone and so I suppose now is the time to reflect on my life so far, and to look forward to the years ahead.

I'll be honest and say it hasn't always been easy. I have had my share of disasters, illness, I've had everything taken away from me and started from scratch multiple times. I have fought for my daughter who was diagnosed with autism at a very young age, determined to give her the best life possible. I have given up my career to become a fulltime mom, and once the kids were big enough, I have gone back to working only to find that whatever I once was I am not anymore. 10 years of not working tends to set you back to having to start from the bottom all over again. And so workwise I find myself being at a level which once was several levels below mine. Not the manager anymore but the employee. No more Chanel, Pradas and Lobotins but jeans, T-shirts and sneakers. The past few years, I have dealt with my kids entering puberty, as a single mother, barely making enough to survive and yet wanting to give my children all I possibly could. I have dealt with so many threatening letters and phonecalls from the bank, because my ex husband wasn't paying the mortgage on the house I still co-own and they wanted their money. Last year I have faced possibly losing my job because my scores weren't good enough.  I had a burn out and then a heart attack this year as first my mind, then my body collapsed under the pressure. Then, and only then, did I finally learn the lesson.

And the lesson was to let go, just be, and deal with life one breath at a time. To face both triumph and disaster with equal grace and acceptance. To realize, all of this is just one big illusion and that I am free to be, no matter what curved balls life throws at me. And to start counting my blessings, all of them, for they are many.

And so here I am. 50 years of age and for the first time in many years, I can honestly say I am happy. When I look in the mirror I no longer see an overstressed, overtly tired, worn down working mom. I see a beautiful woman looking a lot younger than I am. With curves in all the right places and a few I would rather live without but I fully accept them as a part of who I am. Scars all over my body but they are battle scars, from surgeries survived and healthy children being born. A sparkling pair of blue eyes, a grin that appears frequently. And I am oozing with energy. Not always physically, I still have a heart condition and sometimes work, or difficult days in my private life make me very tired. But it is a physical thing and it doesn't affect me mentally.

My children have grown up to be wonderful human beings. They have a sense of honor, truth, dignity and don't bend under the pressure of what society thinks they should do or be. They tell me what's on their mind and share their insecurities, dreams and setbacks. My daughter is a fully normal, social, great young woman and I wish I would remember the name of that doctor at the hospital who once told me she would never, ever be independant just because I would love to pay him a visit and tell him that nothing is impossible if you believe and that giving up on a child is always, always the wrong choice no matter how grim the future may seem.

I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, a job I love to bits, friends and colleagues who make me smile many times a day, an awesome team leader who has pulled me through more than once during moments when it all fell apart. My scores are back up, my job is secure. I am loved. I am appreciated. I am whole.

I am not afraid anymore. The old house is for sale and there will be a huge debt remaining once it is sold, but I will deal with it when it happens and not worry about it. I am learning to speak my mind when people do me wrong. I am learning to ask for help when I need it instead of trying to be perfect all the time, even if I am really not up to it. I am accepting me, all of me. And most of all I am learning it is okay to do things for me, and to strive for happiness, not just for those around me and my kids for who I feel so, so responsible but for myself, too.

At 50 years of age, I am finally discovering what it's like to be the master of my own fate. The creator of my own dreams.  And I have learned that flying isn't a matter of desperately moving your wings up and down trying to stay up in the air. It's a matter of floating on the winds and taking advantage of the air streams, the hot ones and the cold ones because it is in these differences, the yin and yang, the darkness and the light, that movement is found.. effortlessly.




zaterdag 14 december 2013

Noblesse oblige

Here in the Netherlands, we have an expression: Customer is King. There's probably similar expressions around the world but they all boil down to the same thing: as a company, you have an obligation to treat your customers with utter respect.

Of course we all have had many experiences where, as a customer, we were treated with anything but respect. Especially callcenters are infamous for being full of uninterested, grumpy, often even incapable employees. And even though these days awareness of how important it is to be customer oriented, friendly and helpful is high in almost every callcenter, the bad experiences still happen. For companies, present day social media are a very real threat because of the way customers have access to large audiences if they feel the need to spread the word about how awful they were treated. Where 20 years ago "I'm writing a complaint letter to the manager"was about the worst they could do, nowadays you company name can and will be badly damaged by just one person posting a negative comment on Twitter or Facebook.

This gives customers a great deal of power. But with great power comes great responsibility and it might be time to start realising this. Here are a few helpful tips on how to be a good customer:

- If you are greeted with "good morning" by the person on the phone, try returning the favor. "Yes, I want to..." is not a nice way to start a conversation.
- If you can't get your way, don't shoot the messenger. There are limitations to what customer service employees can and can't do for you. Be reasonable, thank them for doing everything they could even if in the end it didn't work out the way you wanted it to.
- Demanding to speak to a manager won't result in getting your way after all. Rules and limitations are there for a reason, and most modern day callcenters are set up in such a way that managers are often not even around or available, because it is their job to make sure the phone lines are answered, the employees are trained etc... not to speak to you. 9 out of 10 managers at callcenters will have far less knowledge of the product and the possibilities/limitations than the employees they are managing.
- Getting personal, even nasty to the employee will cost you the one ally you have in the situation you are in. Keep in mind it is this person's job to help you and solve your problem where and if they possibly can. They are not the enemy and if you treat them as such chances at getting what you want will greatly diminish. After all, they too are human and I bet you wouldn't go out of your way for someone who is calling you names, either.
- Express your appreciation. If a problem you had was solved, a question answered in a way you were happy with, a deadline met due to the help of a customer service employee.. Tell them. "Thank you"are probably the two words most often forgotten to say.

And that brings us to the core of this article. What we as customers often forget is the simple fact that these people are working really hard to answer all our questions, solve our problems and provide service. Depending on the company they answer 20 to 200 calls a person a day, and they try to be friendly and helpful to each and every one of those customers. They have often gone through lengthy training to gain all the knowledge that is needed to do their job. They are fathers, mothers, partners, humans... not robots. They are not a verbal punching bag their company has installed for us as customers to be rude, nasty, unreasonable to or even worse: an outlet for our personal frustrations the company doesn't even have anything to do with. Service.. is not servitude. And indeed as customers we have every right to demand respect, but we have an obligation to be respectful just as well. Noblesse oblige or: royalty comes with obligations. If you want to be treated like a king (and I mean an actual king, one who is loved and respected, not the dictator type).. start acting like one.

dinsdag 1 oktober 2013

Choosing our lessons

I tend to see life as a continuous stream of lessons to learn and opportunities to grow. More often than not, we have very little influence on the circumstances we are in, even if they are the result of our own choices. We need to deal with the present moment, as well as we can. But we do have a choice in how we deal with things, in what we learn from the lesson.

Pain teaches us how to hurt others, wallow in self pity.. or how to show compassion exactly because we know what it feels like to get hurt.
Being loved teaches us how to use others to our advantage, or how to love others, in return.
Being manipulated teaches us how to manipulate others, or how to stand up for what we know is right even if it means losing friends, losing respect, being cast aside.
Financial issues teach us how important money is, or how to still be happy with very little possibilities, get creative in our shopping and eating habits, and see the beauty in things no amount of money can ever buy like our health, the love of our children and having clean air to breathe.
Being rejected teaches us how horribly mean people can be, or how to accept defeat with grace, get up and move on without losing our self respect.
Getting sick teaches us how to feel sorry for ourselves and how fragile and therefore useless our body is, or how to listen to our body, see our own limitations, and have the grace and patience to work on getting better and rejoice in the healing capacities we possess.
Losing a loved one teaches us pain at the deepest level of our soul and how it is better to not love anyone so we don't have to deal with that pain ever again, or how to allow ourselves to feel that pain and go straight through it, discovering that on the other side of it there is nothing but pure love and gratitude for the wonderful memories, for having shared a part of ourselves with this person, for having become a better person, enriched because of it.
Fear teaches us to always stay on the safe side of things, that ours is a hostile world, that dreaming is a waste of time.. or that in facing our fears, acknowledging them but not letting them hold us back we find ultimate freedom.
Dealing with prejudices teaches us that people are stupid, narrowminded, and that it is best to not be any different from anyone else... or choosing to be ourselves, no matter the consequences, and to educate people in a gentle way, not by force but by showing compassion and acknowledging the fears that are at the very root of their viewpoint.

In many ways, life is one big education system. And just like in school, the students who are the most promising, the smartest, the ones with the big talents are the ones who need to study the toughest material and pass the hardest tests. Not because they need to be given a hard time, but because it is the only way they can get an education that goes with what they are meant to be in life.


woensdag 19 juni 2013

Men explained

Conversation with my wonderful friend Mikael.. one of few who doesn't run when confronted with the way my mind works

P laughs and tickles you. The women in your life will soon rule your world :)
M: they always did
P: Nothing wrong with that
M: hahaha !!!
M: forgot to add "at least they think so" !!!
P: well, big secret: we women play the same trick with men
P: amazing how many relationships thrive on "really? that's interesting dear" and  “you are right, dear"
M: hahaha !!!
M: maybe it's because you don't understand what men say
P: ultimately it all boils down to one of two things: shut up and leave me alone (because I'm busy doing something I enjoy) or: shut up, let's have sex
M: hahaha !!!
P: everything else is either polite ways of getting the same message across.. or foreplay
M: interesting subject
P: hmm maybe there is a third: shut up, I'm hungry
P: so basically the manual to dealing with men is simple. If he has an erection: have sex with him. If he doesn't have an erection but is clearly having fun.. leave him alone.. if he doesn't have an erection but seems restless.. make him food
P: oh and if he's having an erection and he's clearly having fun: either kick the other man/woman out of your bed, or join them there
P: now pondering how restaurants were invented.. must have something to do with finding multiple people in your bed, without any erections
M: excellent

donderdag 13 januari 2011

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr.  President,
This morning, I got up at 6:30 to make my kids breakfast and walk them to the station, in the pouring rain, to make sure they would arrive at school in time. I will admit I wasn’t in the world’s greatest mood. The rain, the cold, the fact I am struggling to make a living working a tiring call center job, and no matter what I do the situation not changing... it all had me grumbling. And I hated the world, so full of unfairness, ugliness, stupidity.

Once home, I fired up my computer, reading the news, and stumbling upon an article about your speech at the Tucson memorial service. I decided to find it on YouTube, and watch it. “President Obama urges nation to focus on what heals, not what wounds” the news article had said. “Suuuure, that’s so easily said” I thought, cynical as I usually am towards any politician because.. quite frankly.. to me, politics is just a bunch of power hungry idiots saying a lot, but doing very little to actually change the root causes of problems we face. And so I sat back, and watched.  

I am not ashamed to admit that what I then saw made me cry. It probably means very little to you that a simple mother in a small town near Amsterdam, the Netherlands sat here, crying her eyes out because what you said there rung so true, and was so much from the heart. But I am letting you know nonetheless because I believe that the message you brought in that speech, is the one message this world needs. It is the one message that says it all. It is the message of peace, and how to achieve it. Not by endless debates, not by means of our guns are bigger than yours, not by compromising to at least give the impression we are working on it without ever changing our actual viewpoints. But by looking inside, finding that loving, caring, compassionate person we all are at our core, and nurturing that. 

A solution so simple it sounds almost too good to be true.  Peace, both inner peace and world peace alike, is already there. All we need to do, is strip off all those layers concealing it. The prejudices, the hatred, the fears that cloud our judgment.  It is our natural tendency to want to change the world around us, find someone to blame, strike back, anything but to simply look at why things bother us, and what we, not them, can do to change it.  And in a way, this is not completely a bad thing. The fact we growl, point fingers, want to strike back at least means that we care. The true opposite of love is not hate… it’s indifference.

And so, I want to thank you. Your words and the fact that you had the guts to speak them made me realize once more what life is all about.  They taught me a lesson in humility and compassion, made me look at who I am and why I am here.  And they even forced a cynic to revise her viewpoints on politicians. You sir, are definitely one of the good guys in my book. 

Thank you, and have a wonderful day.