When to self-improve yourself

I read this article earlier today, reflections on the consequences of the modern self-help culture. If self-improvement is a topic you follow, you might find it interesting.

As you all know, this is something I’m curious about. I like trying new habits, playing with how I structure my days, and I want to understand more about how my mind works. This summer my sister, somewhat tired of weird habits, told me that “if someone posted a study of how eating breakfast upside down was good for you, you’d try it”

Sounds like more hassle than I’d want for my breakfast routine, but sure, if the evidence was convincing enough, I might. But, here’s what I consider the key: I would try it if it made sense to me, and without being attached to the result. 

That means:

  • It has to be something I’m curious about right now. You can’t do everything at once, I usually experiment with 1-2 new things at a time. 
  • It has to work with my current priorities. I wouldn’t try a 5-day fast if I’m starting a new assignment, for example.
  • I commit to giving it a couple of weeks, but if it takes more than it gives, I’m fine with letting it go. At least for the time being - I can always pick it up again when it works better for me.

It’s a fine line between trying to be a better version of yourself and chasing a fantasy ideal, impossible to reach, bound to create discontent. The intention, your why, matters.

A story about pancakes

My great-grandmother made the best pancakes. She would explain to me and everyone else why they were the best; they were super thin but never fell apart, and the taste was of course perfect.

Few people master this art. They are either too thick or so thin they make a mess when you flip them. So there was really no doubt of the fact that hers were the best. If anyone would dare criticize said pancakes, she would hit them with the spatula and possible stomp on their foot.

Us kids would never complain. I mean, pancakes. I could eat them with just sugar. A layer of sugar, roll it, cut it into small slices. Swallow with a cup of coffee. Yes, I started drinking coffee when I was five years old*.

Another thing she repeated was that you always had to throw away the first pancake. The idea was that when you make pancakes, the first one is going to suck. Something about butter and frying pans and whatnot, I don’t know, cooking is boring to me, so I don’t pay much attention to the details.

For me, this was perfect. In the eyes of a seven-year-old, an ugly pancake is still a pancake, and thus must be consumed. Preferably by me. Sugar not needed. So when she made the first ugly pancake, I stood there, ready to sacrifice myself for the unwanted piece of heaven. 

I could try to make this into a clever metaphor about how you need to eat some crappy pancakes before you get it right and that's part of life. Or, I could settle for it's late, I'm hungry, and I just really wanted to talk about pancakes.


*It was two parts cream, two parts sugar and one part actual coffee. But still. Oh god, I just realized what an insane amount of sugar I consumed as a kid. 

Some thoughts on digital nomadism

When I started out on my journey of location independence, I did so with more security than most have. I had a corporate job I mostly enjoyed back in Sweden, working remotely was for a limited time, and I never fully associated myself with being a digital nomad. Which might be why it didn’t take me long to grow uneasy with the term.

There was something that just didn’t taste right. Then this video was shared in my network last year and felt like a parody of what’s been bothering me: the way digital nomadism often is portrayed as a superior lifestyle choice, oblivious to the effect it might have on the places "off the beaten path", we're so excited to explore. 

On the other extreme, this article paints a picture of digital nomads as selfish privileged brats, whos only concern with the local community is if they can supply cheap food and cleaning services. 

I'd say the reality is a bit more complex than that (I know, shocker). 

I’ve met people who seem to fit well into that stereotype. Honestly, I’ve been that stereotype (although not all that extreme). That’s usually how it starts. A craving for something different, often based on a personal need or curiosity. But I don’t think that’s how it ends.

Maybe some people never really grow from their experiences, and travel with a selfish mindset. But I think more of us will get a wider perspective and understand the world a little bit better. What we then do with those lessons matter. There are plenty of inspiring role models, from people building businesses with social impact, to influencers using their voice for the environment or other causes they care about.

Which brings me to think that when sharing how much richer this way of life has made us, we might also want to take a look at how we invest that wealth.

Knowledge: Organized.

Sanna here, reporting from Nerd Central. Today I want to share something that I find more exciting than I should admit. Like, this is basically porn for my project manager brain. I just want to scroll through the neatly organized columns, tweak the comments, add tags …

Sorry, got ahead of myself there. It’s really only exciting if you a) read a lot, especially on a digital device, b) care to structure all your highlights and notes so you can access them easily later, and c) are structure fanatic who should seek professional help.

Kindle highlights 

Ever since I turned my reading digital in 2015 and discovered the magic of highlights in my Kindle, I’ve wondered why there’s no easy way to extract and organize them. Back then, even accessing them was a hassle, but that was made easier in 2016 - now you can email them in PDF and CSV format*. 

A couple of weeks ago I came across this post by Simon Hørup Eskildsen, where he shares his approach to reading. It’s amazing – I’ve never heard of anyone being this intentional and structured about their reading. It made me want to step it up a notch, especially for making the gathered knowledge more accessible. Memory won't cut it, unfortunately. Since I’m already actively investing time in my reading, it doesn’t make sense to not invest those extra 10 percent. A small effort of planting seeds that could pay off for years to come. 

It will without doubt evolve and grow more complex with time, but for now, I thought it might be interesting to share my starting point, for others with similar obsessive tendencies. Because we’re all nerds here, right? 

Weapon of choice: Airtable

I’ve worked with Airtable in a couple of client projects before, I liked what I saw, but these days I’m reluctant to invest time into a tool just because it’s new and shiny (I’ll save that impulse for pole wear). Then Heather shared her business setup earlier this summer, as I was getting ready to start a personal project, and that sealed it for me. 

Airtable is described as part spreadsheet, part database, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. What makes it useful for almost anything you can imagine is how it manages the balance between being incredibly powerful and complex, while remaining simple to use. It’s impressive and never feels overwhelming.

Together with Bear, it’s the foundation of most things I create. Bear for writing, Airtable for structure.

Highlights structured in Airtable

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 16.03.27.png

Here’s my structure, let’s call it 1.0. My main objectives are findability and context. This means: 

  1. Quotes are by default grouped by book title, but also categorized and tagged. 
  2. Comments to explain why I highlighted that section and link to the PDF with highlights, where I find the exact location and go through it again.
  3. Easy to pull out relevant information for each quote; the name of the book, author, and link to Amazon page where I can dive into details if needed. 

As you can see, it's not complicated, and I've just gotten started with the process of adding tags and comments for the books I've imported so far.


Process to get there

It's straightforward, but for someone who's not used to these tools, seeing them listed might make it clear if this is for you. I'm referring to Kindle here, but I assume other devices have some equivalent functionality.

  1. Use highlight on your Kindle, and I'd recommend adding notes to it. I've been lazy with this, but now I'm making a deliberate effort to provide context for Future Sanna, who is often very confused by Past Sanna. I highlight for different reasons, sometimes because I found the phrasing beautiful or amusing, sometimes because it’s insightful and I want to remember it, sometimes it's a topic I want to look up. Clarifying this as a note will save me time later.
  2. Go to Notes in your Kindle device and click Export. They will be sent as PDF and CSV to your email.
  3. In Airtable, create a new base - I'd start with a blank spreadsheet instead of a template. Then play around with the structure. 
  4. Copy the columns you want from the CSV file and paste them in Airtable.
  5. See how it feels when you start adding tags and categories to quotes - does it make sense? If not, restructure and try something else (it's surprisingly painless).
  6. When you have your content and basic structure, you can start to play around with views, groups and filter. Organize them based on tags, group them on type of book, or search after something specific. 

And that's what I've got so far! In a couple of months, this will likely have evolved into something different. Updates to come.


*At least if you read on an actual Kindle. If you read on their app it looks like you can only get it in HTML. Amazon, you make it really fucking difficult for your users sometimes. Some consistency would be greatly appreciated. 

PS: If you take a shot every time you read organize, contextstructure or highlight, this post makes for a great drinking game. 

Space to connect the dots

There are so many guides. A framework for everything. HOW TO DO LIFE and BE SUCCESSFUL HAPPY AND ALL THE THINGS, in 10 easy steps. Quick and easy! 

If only it was that simple. Looking at my life from a perspective of Sanna 20 years-old, I’m more successful than I could have hoped for, albeit in another way. I could give you a recipe for how I got here. I can backtrack and organize it into a neat story. Tweetable and all. If you just do this and that, then you can also reach your goals.

It rarely works. Because life is forever messier than we can conceive when we’re entering the world of adulthood. One day you think you have it figured out, the next your girlfriend breaks up with you and all your plans fall apart. Your book reaches the best-seller list, you find out you have a brain tumor. You get everything you dreamed of, and you realize this was not at all what you wanted. There is no escape from uncertainty. Trying to avoid it makes for a boring life, and even then it’ll find you. 

The most useful skill I’ve cultivated is the ability to roll with the punches. I think most successful people have this. One door closes, I sit in chock for a minute, then I get up and find another one. When I was fired from a job once, I started reaching out to my contacts ten minutes later. It’s about constantly learning from what happens and try other ways. Pay attention. Notice what goes on around you. 

Things will happen, but they always happen for a reason. No, I’m not talking mystical driving forces of the universe (please). I’m talking about finding your own reasons. Use a scientific mindset. If you get fired, what can you learn? What happened, leading up to that event? What can you do next time to avoid the same situation? Or, maybe this was not the right job for you, because it would not make sense for you to act differently? You’re not likely to find all the answers, but reflecting on it will help you acquire some useful insights in that brain of yours.

That, and not a new bullet point article, will help you get somewhere. 

I think many of us need more solitude. Meditation helps, but creating more space in your life for reflection will support the internal work you need to do, that’s how you connect the dots. See what got you to this point and where you want to go next. We all have our unique paths. And while we can learn from others stories, we need to work on our own. It can be as easy as taking regular walks, without listening to a podcast. Try airplane mode every once in a while. Go completely offline for a weekend. 

It doesn't matter how, but strive for a state of mind where you're inspired by your own thoughts. It will pay off.

Reclaiming my mind

Hi. I’m Sanna. I’m a smartphone junkie. How disturbingly satisfying it is to reach for it, open it up, and find something new. Inspiration! Knowledge! Weird shit you never asked for, but has now been delivered to your inbox, with love, the internet

This impact and effect this little device had on me were never more present than right after Vipassana. I came out and it felt so strange to yet again have the world in my hands. I started going through what had happened during my ten days off the grid.

Turned out, not much, really. 

What happened to me, being connected again, was that I fell right into my old habits. Like an alcoholic might feel when falling off the wagon, I felt a bit nauseous at first but got over it quickly. There are a million excuses for continuing the way I used too, but for the sake of reclaiming my brain and owning my phone rather than letting it own me, changes had to be made.

Long ramble for getting to the point, which is sadly short and if you have ever read an article about productivity, there’s nothing new to find here. Sorry about that. But I know some of you have considered these ideas without taking any steps to actually implementing it.

In that case, take this as your personal reminder. 

Notifications, be gone

I don’t understand how anyone gets anything done with notifications pinging every other minute, but if that works for you, be my guest. This was step one in getting some sanity back. The only push notifications I get is when someone calls me, sends me a message on messages or WhatsApp, or pays an invoice. 

Flight mode and do not disturb

My phone automatically goes into Do not disturb mode between 8 pm and 9 am. I put my phone in airplane mode when I go to bed and ideally don’t put it back until midday, but in reality sooner. Rarely before 9 though, so I at least get a couple of hours of no phone time.

Casual relationship with social

One time my manager asked me how to search on Twitter if you didn’t have an account. “I don’t know, I’ve never logged out”, was my reply.

Some years later, the Twitter and Facebook apps are long gone (except for Messenger). When I log in on desktop or mobile, I always log out when I’m done. 

At one point I’ll deal with Instagram as well. I deleted the app for a week this summer, not really missing it, so we’ll see what I do in the future. Definitely the most addictive app I have right now.

Write your heart out

Moving on to bigger perspective than what goes on with your phone - training your mind to not be in consuming mode by default. Journaling in the morning is a helpful habit for this. Google can help you with ideas for structure on this. Personally, I just write whatever comes to mind, and at times experiment with adding different formats. Like listing things to be grateful for, or forcing yourself to come up with ideas. 

Take a hike

And by hike, I just mean getting your ass out the door and walk. Getting some fresh air and letting your thoughts wander gives perspective.

This is based on the assumption that you’re not walking with your nose in your phone, of course.

Meditation

I could not skip mentioning this. Just do it. 

If you’re struggling with the why and how of meditation, I recommend this interview with Dan Harris on The James Altucher Show.

Running for perspective

“You can’t run away from your problems.” 

You've heard that one before. Maybe from your parents when you were ten years old and tried to run away in the literal sense when they wouldn't let you eat candy every day. Or from a good friend, trying to talk some sense into you when you needed it. 

They were not wrong, of course. Being on the run is tiring and no matter how fast you are, you’ll never be able to shake them off. Your problems are persistent chasers. Trust me, I’ve tried.

But, I’d still argue that physically running away can be a great strategic move. 

You can run from your problems without actually moving. Distractions are a form of running. Occupying yourself with work, gym, social activities, alcohol, without space to reflect on your priorities, to name a few. From the outside, it might look like you’re living the life you intend to, but only you know the real story. If you’re being honest with yourself, that is. 

When I started traveling, part of it was definitely running away. I was desperate for a change. When I asked my manager to work remotely for a period of time, that was part of how I explained my reasons. “I need to not be here, in Stockholm, at the office. I need perspective.”

Since making that decision a lot has changed. Not because I managed to shake off my commitment issues in a narrow alley in Bali or drown my anxiety among the jellyfishes in Koh Tao. But changing my environment did change my perspective. It draws the attention to those darker corners I wasn’t able to see when I was preoccupied with my daily routine of commute, work, gym, socializing and everything I did to keep myself busy.

I don't think everyone should be as dramatic as I was. But a little bit of running away, by yourself, would do most of us some good. 

The art of asking

I’m not a Dresden Dolls fan, and before listening to the interview she did on Tim Ferris show I had never even heard of Amanda Palmer. But what she talks about in her book (also available more condensed as a TED Talk) struck a chord with me. How difficult it is to ask, and how valuable it is to learn. 

From what I’ve seen, it isn’t so much the act of asking that paralyzes us—it’s what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak.
— Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking

I was raised to be independent and that has been a huge part of how I define myself. Asking anything from anyone affected me on a scale from slight discomfort to physical pain. 

Just calling a friend to see if they want to hang out could feel like I was demanding too much. Having to ask for help when I was in real trouble, even worse. If I can't do everything by myself, what was I even worth? 

Yeah, I know, super healthy. I should probably point out that I have come a long way since those years of extreme anxiety. 

Whether it’s in the arts, at work, or in our relationships, we often resist asking not only because we’re afraid of rejection but also because we don’t even think we deserve what we’re asking for.

The Art of Asking is part a biography of an artist, with all that it entails. But reading it is also like having an honest conversation with a friend. Much of it feels obvious, but you know, sometimes you need to hear it in someone else's words for it to connect. 

And, some parts hits really close to home.

The problem was that I craved intimacy to the same burning degree that I detested commitment.”

”There’s really no honor in proving that you can carry the entire load on your own shoulders. And … it’s lonely.”

”And when you’re afraid of someone’s judgment, you can’t connect with them. You’re too preoccupied with the task of impressing them.

If asking makes you uncomfortable, or if you're struggling with vulnerability, this might be a good read for you. 

Asking is, at its core, a collaboration. 

The battle of sleep and creating

Sleep is great. I need it as much as the next person. The thing is, I don’t really want to sleep. Think about all the fun stuff you could do instead of sleeping. I could learn to speak Italian, write a sci-fi novel, maybe make my own pasta. Ok, I’ll likely never make my own pasta because cooking is boring, but you get the picture - you could get a lot of things done during eight hours if sleep wasn’t a prerequisite for being a functional human. 

So, before going to sleep, I read for a while. It’s a way of tricking myself to stop thinking about all the things I want to do and, well, calm the fork down. When I start feeling sleepy, I put my Kindle away and try to think about something positive that will not make me too excited about the future, because then sleep is out of the question for hours.

Lately, I’ve become more aware of how the process feels when I’m about to fall asleep. Even when I'm tired to the brink of exhaustion, I sometimes notice this intense urge to move, anything to stay awake. If I can control my mind enough, not move or get caught up the thoughts it triggers, then I relax into the sensation and fall asleep fairly quickly. 

Which brings me to the point of why I’m sharing this - I have a similar experience with writing. I’m currently working on a project I've committed to in a way I haven't before. To not make progress is simply not an option. 

Getting words out is easy enough, but making them sing, creating that rhythm, that I can only manage when I get into the flow. And the process of getting into that flow, that elusive state of mind, is a constant challenge. As anyone doing something creative will testify.

So. I sit down. I write my words, to get into it. After a while I’ll usually feel that sensation creeping up, similar to the when I’m about to fall asleep. An urge to move. 

“I’ve been here for an hour, I should take a walk, clear my head.”
“Maybe it’s time for some coffee now, I haven’t had any in like five minutes.”
“Did my phone blink? No? Well, maybe I have some notification if I open every app I could possibly think of, over and over again for five hours.”

But, if I just can sit with this for a little while longer, not listen to that little voice of sabotage, flow often waits on the other side. That panic is a signal I’m getting close to the juicy stuff, the stuff that matters. 

I don’t know what the end result will look like. I don’t know if it'll be good or if anyone will care. But just being able to create and, as Steven Pressfield would put it, “Beat the Resistance”, it’s a victory in itself.

The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.
— Steven Pressfield - War of Art

Curiosity is more fun than fear

When I did my first 10 days of silence and meditation last year, it was an experience that made me reassess who I was and want to be. When people asked what I gained from it, I wanna say “dude, like, EVERYTHING” but while it’s true, it’s a) not very useful, and b) I really need to stop talking like a stoned American teenager.

I’ve talked at length about how I’m better at distancing myself from my thoughts and emotions, and how my anxiety has almost disappeared. But there’s another important shift I want to share - what drives me.

See, when anxiety was your main driving force, and that goes away, what comes instead?

Once, a colleague told me he was hesitant about going to the gym because he was afraid he would feel so satisfied after, he would lose his edge, the thing that was driving him to create. I’ve heard others share how they don’t want to deal with their fear of being inadequate because that’s what’s pushing them to grow and develop.

This was on my mind both during and after Vipassana. When you accept everything as it is, what will drive you to accomplish things in life? Push through struggles and challenges? And not just give up, and spend your life smiling by the ocean?

I wouldn’t say I was worried about it, it was more about being curious. If I don’t have to be the person I so strongly identified with, who will I be instead? A happy vegetable with no aspirations?

Then I realized therein lies the answer - curiosity.

The world is fascinating. It’s easy to forget when you get caught up in routines and everyday life. Being human is random, and weird, and I want to experience as much of it as possible. I want to be challenged, I want to grow, I want to pursue every crazy idea I have. 

Just to see what happens.

From an outward perspective, it might not look like much have changed. But my experience sure has. And let me tell you, being driven by curiosity is a hell of a lot more fun than being driven by fear.

A name origin story

If you know me, this is a familiar story. When there’s a different name in your passport than people know you by, they tend to notice. It's also slightly embarrassing, so I figure that might appeal to some of you.

You could say it all started with Scotland. I only lived there for a few months, but wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me what place feels most like home, I’ll answer Glasgow, even before questioning how dare you talk to me before coffee. 

When I started traveling, I always introduced myself with the Swedish way of pronouncing my name, which was surprisingly difficult for my Scottish friends. They over-accentuated the vowels and whenever they called on me, it sounded like a general yelling order. “SAH-NAH!”

The obvious solution to this problem is to just say it softer, like how you usually say Anna in English. I, being me and taking things too far, went another direction. I changed the name in my passport. Possibly inspired by my cousin who made a big debacle during her baptism ceremony at age 15 by throwing in a new middle-name, Sol, Swedish for sun.*

Since I’ve always wanted to live somewhere else, I naturally wanted a name which did not feel connected to Sweden. It also had to be easy to pronounce in both English and Spanish. And, let’s be honest, something that sounded a bit cooler than the one I already had. I don’t remember which names I disregarded in the process but landed pretty quickly on Angelina. 

At this point, I want to remind you that I was about 18 years old. 

Picking a name clearly inspired by a famous icon and movie star might not have been the most strategic decision for someone who preferred standing on the sidelines, far from the center. Whenever people first heard the name they would respond with an impressed nod, as if they appreciated my parent’s unusual name choice for their time. When I felt obliged to explain I had chosen it myself, I got the look saying “really hun, you’re comparing yourself to her?”. But that might also have been my wallflower self speaking. 

 That hair though. Mirror selfie, Edinburgh, 2006.

That hair though. Mirror selfie, Edinburgh, 2006.

When I moved to Scotland I introduced myself with Angelina. Maybe it was more about shedding who I was, my Swedish way of being, into someone completely different. Angelina lived in West End, Glasgow. Worked in a pub, had favorite regulars, knew their preferred whiskey. Shared an apartment with a Scottish woman who was obsessed with crystals, a German brain surgeon, and a friend from Sweden. She could pronounce garage like she was born and raised in the Highlands. She could be whoever she wanted to be.

Then I went back to Sweden. It’s been twelve years and I never introduced myself as Angelina again. But it still says Angelina Sanna Stefansson in my passport. It reminds me of how much I wanted to be someone else and how much I now enjoy being me.

Also, the initials A.S.S. are just too good to give up.

*It’s a family thing, apparently. It can be traced back to my ancestor who founded the last name I carry, Stefanus Jonsson. I’m forever grateful he settled on Stefansson and not Stefanusson. 
 

Long-term traveling and friendships

If you travel frequently, you probably agree that the people you meet are what makes it an experience to remember. But you might also get questions like "isn't it lonely?" or my personal favorite "isn't it frustrating to get to know people when you'll never see them again?". The short answer is nein. But if you want the longer version, read on. 

I was at a meet-up last week and one guy shared a comment from a girl he had met here in Berlin. “If she doesn't think someone will stay at least six months, she won’t bother getting to know them”. An interesting take on which relationships are worth pursuing. Another guy fully agreed: “That’s the worst about traveling, it’s pointless to waste energy on getting to know someone you’ll never see again.”

This attitude is not uncommon. If you’re traveling long-term, the lack of consistent community will likely affect you eventually. Some people manage it by slowing down, staying longer in each place. Some, like me, decide it’s time for a home base. A place where I not only can indulge in expensive linen sheets (after three nomadic years, this is my definition of luxury), but more importantly (yes, more than linen sheets), a space I can share with friends from all over the world, as they’ve done so generously for me.

Now, I know I don't live the most traditional life. Despite having a home with linen sheets*, I still have places I want to see, people I want to visit, and that remains part of how I plan my life. Not everyone has that privilege or priority. But here's how I approach this travelers dilemma of meaningful relationships: 

Expectations do more harm than good. 

I rarely have any expectations when I get to know someone. If we connect at a conference and decide to have a coffee later, I don’t think we’re gonna be best friends and start planning weekend getaways. If I go on a Tinder date, I don’t think we’re gonna get married, or even necessarily spend more time together than it takes to finish one beer. If I go to a meet-up like the one where this conversation started, I don't expect I want to grab a burger with someone afterward. 

I'm just curious. Curious about other people, who they are, where they come from. You can find something interesting about anyone, given enough time and energy. Then we'll see where it goes.

If you struggle with relationships on the road, it’s likely you have unrealistic expectations of what these relationships should be. If you enjoy spending a week getting to know someone, is it really a waste of time, just because you don’t live in the same country? Is a meaningful friendship characterized by how close you live to each other and how frequently you see each other face to face? 

That might have been a reality a century ago, but as we all know, distance matter less than now it ever has. You still need to put in some effort though. 

 December 2012. Embracing the stereotype of backpacking in the Australian outback with Ching and Viriya, who I had met a week earlier. A few years later I visited them in Thailand where we did another road trip outside Bangkok (hey, isn’t it time for the third edition of Yumcha trip soon?!).  Also, #foreverawkwardposer. 

December 2012. Embracing the stereotype of backpacking in the Australian outback with Ching and Viriya, who I had met a week earlier. A few years later I visited them in Thailand where we did another road trip outside Bangkok (hey, isn’t it time for the third edition of Yumcha trip soon?!).

Also, #foreverawkwardposer. 

 January 2016. Went scuba diving with the Philippines with Jeremiah, who I met three months earlier in Bali, here not yet suspecting how insane our dive master was. In September he's finally coming to visit in Berlin!

January 2016. Went scuba diving with the Philippines with Jeremiah, who I met three months earlier in Bali, here not yet suspecting how insane our dive master was. In September he's finally coming to visit in Berlin!

 May 2016. I blame all three of you for tricking me into drinking beer instead of doing yoga for two weeks. Also, meeting these guys who live in Munich is the reason I ended up going to Oktoberfest, which has since turned into a tradition.

May 2016. I blame all three of you for tricking me into drinking beer instead of doing yoga for two weeks. Also, meeting these guys who live in Munich is the reason I ended up going to Oktoberfest, which has since turned into a tradition.

 July 2018. In 2015 I spent a couple of days in Ubud with Ronja, and since moving to Berlin, we've managed to survive two festivals together. 

July 2018. In 2015 I spent a couple of days in Ubud with Ronja, and since moving to Berlin, we've managed to survive two festivals together. 

There's no way I ever could have predicted the trajectory of these friendships when we first met. That's the beauty of it.

Then there are people I liked, but haven't stayed in touch with. I still have fond memories of the guy I hung out with for a week in Bali, getting lost in the rice paddies, even though I’ll likely never see him again. Or the girl I shared a dorm with in Thailand, who felt like a sister in spirit and made me laugh till I cried five minutes after we met. Or the guy I sat next to on a long bus trip, who kept hitting on me and talked about how he loved Sweden and wanted ten kids - I could not have been more in the wrong target group for that pitch, but I still enjoyed our conversations. 

Maybe that's the most important lesson traveling has given me. Meet people, be open for genuine connections, and appreciate the time you have with them, no matter how short or infrequent it is. Maybe you meet once a year. Maybe you only got to hang out for a week in South Africa. Maybe you end up in a relationship lasting a decade. You can never tell, and that makes the world so much more interesting than picking your friends based on zip codes.

*Sorry, not sorry, for my obsession with linen.

Creativity, Inc

I have a weird way of sabotaging for myself when reading. Somewhere in my adult years, I got this idea that I had to have the perfect circumstances for reading quality books.

Meaning I can’t read when I’m tired, or stressed, or when I only have a few minutes on my hands. “I won’t be able to understand and remember”, I thought to myself.

I don’t know where I picked up this stupid habit but has done zero good for me, so I decided, fuck it, I’m gonna read whenever, wherever, as Shakira would say. (How’s that for a super old reference?)

Creativity, Inc

One of the books I’ve been putting off with that excuse is Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.

Ed Catmull is currently in my top five people I would love to meet. I think we (meaning mostly and probably only me) would have a lot of fun nerding out about management and how to build an environment that people are this excited to go to. His approach to building Pixar aligns very much with how I dream of running a company. Thinking long-term, putting people first, try new things while always contemplating and evaluating the result.

Since my company currently consist of one person (hello 🙋🏻‍♀️) I can't test these theories in full, but in my project manager role I can definitely draw inspiration from it. Here are few nuggets I’m taking with me from this book.

This should be a goal of every leadership role.

My aim at Pixar—and at Disney Animation, which my longtime partner John Lasseter and I have also led since the Walt Disney Company acquired Pixar in 2006—has been to enable our people to do their best work.

People are everything

[…] you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better. The takeaway here is worth repeating: Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.
That means it is better to focus on how a team is performing, not on the talents of the individuals within it. A good team is made up of people who complement each other. There is an important principle here that may seem obvious, yet—in my experience—is not obvious at all. Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.

So important, and so commonly overlooked.

A catchy mantra can do more damage than good

Parroting the phrase “Story Is King” at Pixar didn’t help the inexperienced directors on Toy Story 2 one bit. What I’m saying is that this guiding principle, while simply stated and easily repeated, didn’t protect us from things going wrong. In fact, it gave us false assurance that things would be okay.
People glom onto words and stories that are often just stand-ins for real action and meaning.

Fail and fail fast

Andrew is fond of saying that people need to be wrong as fast as they can. In a battle, if you’re faced with two hills and you’re unsure which one to attack, he says, the right course of action is to hurry up and choose. If you find out it’s the wrong hill, turn around and attack the other one.

Everyone (at least in my internet neighborhoods) subscribes to the “fail fast” principle. So do I. But it's one thing to know the theory, acting accordingly is a whole different cookie.

If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it. And, for leaders especially, this strategy—trying to avoid failure by outthinking it—dooms you to fail. As Andrew puts it, “Moving things forward allows the team you are leading to feel like, ‘Oh, I’m on a boat that is actually going towards land.’ As opposed to having a leader who says, ‘I’m still not sure. I’m going to look at the map a little bit more, and we’re just going to float here, and all of you stop rowing until I figure this out.’ And then weeks go by, and morale plummets, and failure becomes self-fulfilling. People begin to treat the captain with doubt and trepidation.

I love this way of explaining it.

The principle I’m describing here—iterative trial and error—has long-recognized value in science. When scientists have a question, they construct hypotheses, test them, analyze them, and draw conclusions—and then they do it all over again. The reasoning behind this is simple: Experiments are fact-finding missions that, over time, inch scientists toward greater understanding. That means any outcome is a good outcome, because it yields new information.

Yes.

Wording matters (in case you didn’t know)

“Sometimes in meetings, I sense people seizing up, not wanting to even talk about changes,” he says. “So I try to trick them. I’ll say, ‘This would be a big change if we were really going to do it, but just as a thought exercise, what if ...’ Or, ‘I’m not actually suggesting this, but go with me for a minute ...’ If people anticipate the production pressures, they’ll close the door to new ideas—so you have to pretend you’re not actually going to do anything, we’re just talking, just playing around. Then if you hit upon some new idea that clearly works, people are excited about it and are happier to act on the change.”

A small change in phrasing can make a huge difference.

It’s not all simple

But when it comes to randomness, our desire for simplicity can mislead us. Not everything is simple, and to try to force it to be is to misrepresent reality.

Excellence over structure

By insisting on the importance of getting our ducks in a row early, we had come perilously close to embracing a fallacy. Making the process better, easier, and cheaper is an important aspiration, something we continually work on—but it is not the goal. Making something great is the goal.
“I’m a firm believer in the chaotic nature of the creative process needing to be chaotic. If we put too much structure on it, we will kill it. So there’s a fine balance between providing some structure and safety—financial and emotional—but also letting it get messy and stay messy for a while. To do that, you need to assess each situation to see what’s called for. And then you need to become what’s called for.”

An easy trap to fall into. Focusing all your energy on a magical solution of structure that will solve all problems, effectively draining the creativity out of everyone and in the end not solving anything. It's also difficult to argue with - it always sounds good. "This will make working easier for everyone and let us focus on creating", but in reality, we're just chasing a utopia.

Note to self (and everyone I know)

There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.

Include people in your problems

“People want decisiveness, but they also want honesty about when you’ve effed up,” as Andrew says. “It’s a huge lesson: Include people in your problems, not just your solutions.”
Careful “messaging” to downplay problems makes you appear to be lying, deluded, ignorant, or uncaring. Sharing problems is an act of inclusion that makes employees feel invested in the larger enterprise.

Read if ...

I have about seventy more highlights from the book, and I will make a habit of coming back to them on a regular basis. Definitely worth reading if you're working in a management role or are just the teeny tiniest bit interested in company culture. 

2017: A year in review

2017 was in many ways the culmination of three years hard work. What was before, I remember most as constantly longing for something else. I didn't know what it was, and how to figure it out, so I waited.

And waited, and waited. I obsessed over different questions but hesitated to commit to anything. Maybe I should start studying again? Look for a new job? Maybe move to the U.S.? Or just travel more? I made half-ass decisions on a daily basis. Spent weeks researching options. Till I reached a point where I decided that sitting on my ass in Stockholm, year after year, would not bring me closer to an answer. 

So 2015 I stopped waiting.

2016 was about slowly learning about things I didn't want. 

Which brings us to 2017: the year when I started to figure out what I actually do want. I know my values and priorities in a way I haven't before. Life is not all sunshine and mangos, but knowing what mangos you actually want sure as hell makes it easier to pick them.

Not my greatest analogy, but you get what I'm saying.

This has been an incredible year, and I'm so grateful for everyone that has been part of it in any way, positive as well as negative. 

So, what was 2017 all about?

Let's dive into the details! 

Cape Town life

I decided to live in Cape Town for two months. The city is gorgeous, the people are just the sweetest you can imagine, and OMG the wine and food are to die for. It was an incredible experience, but for someone who enjoys walking around solo, it was also challenging. You have to pay attention to your surroundings in a way I’ve never had to. It’s not an unsafe city, but as a friend there said: “99% of the time nothing happens. But where you come from it’s 99,9%. There’s a difference.“

 Cape Town sunsets never disappoints. 

Cape Town sunsets never disappoints. 

Embracing meditation

I started practicing meditation in January, first with Headspace and then moved onto Insight Timer, which is my preferred meditation app when I'm not practicing Vipassana. 

The fasting thing

In February, I decided to try intermittent fasting, after a friend pointed out that it was basically the way I was unintentionally eating in Bali. It didn't take long to notice that it works really well for my body (my stomach has never been happier), although getting used to not eating in the mornings was a struggle for the first months. 

Bonus: Every day is brunch day!

Finally visiting Colombia

I’ve dreamed of Colombia for years, and I was not disappointed with the country. I was however disappointed with myself, who got sick as soon as I got there and was not able to enjoy it the way I wanted to. I’ll be back one day and do it right.

Crossing the Atlantic

I joined the Nomad Cruise, two weeks crossing the Atlantic from Colombia to Portugal. Here I had a few of my most miserable moments of the year, but also some of my happiest.

Did anyone say tequila-infused emotional rollercoaster?

 Sunset selfies with some of my favorite people on the boat.

Sunset selfies with some of my favorite people on the boat.

 More favorites! Hiking in Madeira. Or, if we're being honest, more like leisure strolling on a comfortable path.

More favorites! Hiking in Madeira. Or, if we're being honest, more like leisure strolling on a comfortable path.

Besides new friends, I also picked up a new understanding of myself - I have a strong extroverted part, too. I’ve had this idea of myself as a typical introvert who would feel the happiest living as a hermit with books as companions. 

Yeah, no. 

This type of experience, where you get thrown into a mix of people, spending every waken hour together for a limited amount of time, works as an energy boost for my brain. Going forward, I aspire to have one or two of these types of experiences yearly. 

Oh, Lisbon

After the cruise, a group of us stayed for almost a week. These days were magical. Drinking wine by the ocean, eating all the food, having great conversations. Lisbon didn’t quite win my heart as a home base, but I'll always come back for the vibe and (obviously) pastel de nata. 

Vipassana silent retreat

I was talking to a friend who has done Vipassana several times, and she looked at me and said, “there’s a before and an after”. It really is. It was a mental boot camp where I had to face my mind in a way I’ve never done before, and it was unbelievably tough. 

But I’m so damn grateful for staying and pushing through the pain. Six months later and I'm still growing from this experience.

 During the retreat, this little piece of art slowly emerged by the walking area. 

During the retreat, this little piece of art slowly emerged by the walking area. 

Defining my priorities

One of the many things Vipassana brought clarity to is what really matters to me. It comes down to three things: health, creating and community. For every decision I make, I try to choose the alternative that most supports this.

Las Palmas life

For six weeks this summer I stayed in Las Palmas and worked on my writing and collaborating with Heather, practiced pole and processed my Vipassana experience. We also managed to have some epic tequila Fridays. If that's not balance, I don't know what is.

 Hello, pretty houses!

Hello, pretty houses!

Freelancing and AB

Since quitting my job I’ve been freelancing and invoiced through a service, but this summer I finally committed to starting my own business. 

So if you hear me talking about something like a proud mother would of her child, it’s about my business. I even take pleasure in reporting my time, sending invoices and making calculations.

I know, my excitement for this is way out of proportion.

Back to Scotland

I went to a magical wedding in Scotland and got the chance to swing by Glasgow for a few days - for the first time since leaving eleven years ago. This city will always feel like home and I'd love to spend a longer period of time there at some point.

Ass crew member getting married

Watching two of my favorite people get married is clearly in the highlights column. LOOK AT HOW PRETTY THEY ARE!

 The excitement was through the roof.

The excitement was through the roof.

 Selfies are in order when the first ass crew member gets hitched.

Selfies are in order when the first ass crew member gets hitched.

Berlin, Berlin

In line with my priorities, I decided it was time to start making plans for getting myself a home base. As most of you know, Berlin has been in the cards for a while, and after spending September there, I have no hesitations. A city with that number of hipster cafes and weird bars is clearly where I belong. 

Berlin, I'll be seeing you soon. 

 Two and Two in Berlin: cozy, good wifi, decent coffee.

Two and Two in Berlin: cozy, good wifi, decent coffee.

 Will never not love this photo.

Will never not love this photo.

Kept the Oktoberfest tradition going

Drinking beer with friends is something you can do anywhere, but there’s something about Oktoberfest in Munich that makes it magical.

Also, somebody plz stop me from buying a new dirndl next year. This habit is wrecking my budget.

learning to let go 

Another theme of the year has been working on letting go. It will never be easy, but practice makes ... well, better.

The tricky part is when we're not even aware that we are attached to something. It can be an idea of who you are. Or how someone else is. It’s easy to cling to illusions when letting go means facing what we are without them. If I’m not an introvert, what’s my excuse for hiding? If I bought into a lie, what does that say about me?

You get the picture. 

Pole pole pole

This year started with a strong focus on yoga, Ashtanga in particular, but it has been different since the silent retreat. What I used to get from yoga, I now get from meditation. Instead, I want to focus all my attention on dancing.

Being in Stockholm for a while has the upside of training at my home studio which happens to be THE BEST. Not that I'm partial or anything. Lucky for me, Berlin has some kickass studios too.

Also, I started exotic pole! As many other things in pole it doesn't come naturally to me, but putting on 7inch heels and do hair flips has been a highlight of my weeks this winter.

Tequila Friday Newsletter

Oh, and I started a newsletter! I read a lot of interesting things I want to share, and tequila goes really well with smart 3,500 words articles, in case you didn't know. Subscribe here if you're interested!

Places visited

I did intend to travel less, but still managed to jump across the world. Several places for the first time, but also a few favorites I keep coming back to.

Hello 2018

2017, you were spectacular in so many ways. Challenges and happiness in equal measures, a lot of personal growth, new friends, and as always, not quite enough tequila. So grateful for this year.

2018, bring it on.

 Finishing 2017 in the best way possible - tequila drinks with this amazeballs person.

Finishing 2017 in the best way possible - tequila drinks with this amazeballs person.

 

 

Being uncomfortable

I finished watching Marie's interview with Tim this morning (recommended!), and she asked viewers to share their story on one of Tim’s staple questions: In the last five years — what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life?

For me, it’s embrace being uncomfortable. Some years ago I realized I was always waiting for the perfect timing, with, in hindsight, absurd excuses to avoid discomfort. I was awkward in many situations and that awkwardness would paralyze me and if I could avoid it, I would. No matter the reward it would hold.

My increasing death anxiety was one of the triggers that made me rethink how I approached experiences. In my mid-twenties, I felt more and more like life was passing me by, and I was just sitting in my corporate office, reading about things other people did while getting closer to my grave with no fun stories to put on my tombstone. 

My pivotal moment in this change was actually starting pole dance. I wanted to try it for years, but instead of doing it, I told myself I needed to get into better shape first. Get stronger, thinner, more flexible. Finally, with the feeling that I was soon going to to die anyway, I decided, fuck it. It's one embarrassing hour of my life, I can survive this.

And yes, it was awkward. And hard. I felt like a T-rex with their tiny arms, trying to move a huge body around the pole. It was challenging as hell. It sure wasn't pretty. I couldn't understand how I would ever be able to climb on the pole, even less how I would be able to hang upside down and do those pretty shapes I've seen on Instagram. But, at the same time, it was intriguing and fun. Fun enough to make me embrace the discomfort and sign up for a course. 

My pole journey is a separate story, but the point is that I chose to accept feeling uncomfortable and not run away from it. I decided to focus on being proud of myself for every little progress I made, no matter that it was slower than anyone else's and it literally took me three years to learn how to properly invert*.

Australia was another big thing. My first longer trip by myself, a month traveling the east coast. Colleagues would comment on how “brave I was to travel that far alone”, but traveling with only myself as company never scared me. Just give me a book, some sunshine and a glass of wine and I’ll be happy. What I used as an excuse here was money, and again, me being uncomfortable in my own skin. “I’ll better wait till I have money saved up, so I can do everything I want to do there” and “I’ll better wait till I look good in a bikini before I go to a dreamy beach place and learn to surf”. Yes, I’m well aware of how absurd it sounds, I also know I’m not alone in thinking like this. 

“I’m too stiff to do yoga.”
“I’m too poor to travel.”
“I’m too fat for pole.” 

With that bit of energy I got from pushing my comfort zone with pole dance, I booked my ticket six months in advance. Then I managed to save a little bit of money, but I was not exactly the fitness amazon I had envisioned. But I went. I didn’t get to try surfing that time, but I did spend plenty of time at the beach. I met awesome people, some of which I still keep in touch with. I learned that you can have an epic experience without staying in fancy hotels and have visible abs. Who knew, right.

This is where I decided that life for me is about embracing the awkwardness, be able to laugh at yourself and learn from all the experiences. Which is why I love trying new things. If something feels exciting, I'll have to do it at some point, no matter how much it scares me. It might not be tomorrow. Maybe not this year. But it will happen. 

Skydiving is one of those things. Imagining it makes me nauseous and the idea of me voluntarily jumping out of an airplane is absurd. Someone will have to push me, and I won’t scream, because when I’m truly scared, I go mute. But, eventually, I will do it. Because no matter how much of cliche it is, life is just too fucking short not to.

*This is an invert and most people learn it in a few months. 😬

Oktoberfest Survival Guide

Beer. Giant pretzels. Lederhosen and dirndls. October is almost over, and you know what that means? Time to start planning for next year's Oktoberfest!

 First beer. At which point we all look like normal humans, able to communicate with words and not only by singing German drinking songs.

First beer. At which point we all look like normal humans, able to communicate with words and not only by singing German drinking songs.

Ever since my first time in Munich I've taken it upon myself to convince everyone I meet to join next time. You could call me an unofficial Oktoberfest Ambassador. An important role which pays nothing, even though it should, because half of my Instagram stories are about dirndls and beer.*

In line with this mission, I've decided to share some wise words with anyone who has not yet been but considering booking a ticket.

A brief description of Oktoberfest 

The basic premise of Oktoberfest is simple and therein lays its charm. You sit at large tables with friends. You drink beer in glasses bigger than your head. You talk, sing and cheer with everyone you make eye-contact with. The music starts with traditional German songs and then escalates with every cheer. This playlist will give you a good idea of what to expect.

The festival goes by the local name Wiesn and runs for about 16-18 days, ending in the beginning of October. There's no entrance fee, but you have to get to the tents early to secure a spot. 

Also, the event is run with the efficiency you would expect from Germany. Sorry for enforcing the stereotype, but can you imagine a festival where you never have to stand in line to the bathroom? Just that makes it worth a visit.

Where to stay

 

The priciest part of Oktoberfest is usually accommodation, although it might depend on your beer drinking skills. It’s going to be expensive and you need to book well in advance. I stayed in Airbnb’s both times and would recommend booking six to three months beforehand. The sooner, the better.

The local transportation in Munich works well, so if you have to stay a bit further away from the area, it’s not a big problem. 

Dress the part

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 14.48.13.png

If you’re going to do Oktoberfest, you ought to do it properly. I bought my dirndl (traditional Bavarian dress) here last year, and this year I accidentally walked past a trachten** outlet in Berlin and ended up with another dress (damn you, pretty dirndls). Amazon is a great option too, and if you aren’t sure of the style that suits you, there are plenty of places to shop in Munich. As long as it doesn’t cut into the beer drinking time, of course. 

Advice from local friends is to not buy the cheapest option since it will be obvious from miles away and make you look like a "dumb tourist" (their words, not mine). If you need dirndl inspiration,  Pinterest is a reliable source. 

Plan your time

Get to the tents early, especially if you’re going on a weekend and you're in a larger group. Aim for around noon and you should be fine. Pick your spot with care - you'll be there for at least ten hours. 

Two days of Wiesn partying is usually enough. I would recommend staying for 3-4 nights and have a day of exploring Munich in between the beer drinking. It's a gorgeous city. 

 The feather was 5 euros extra. Totally worth it, with the logic of someone who just had six liters of beer.

The feather was 5 euros extra. Totally worth it, with the logic of someone who just had six liters of beer.

Cash rules

One liter of beer will set you back about 10-11 euros, and you pay cash. Make sure you have all the money you need for a night, and not more.

Because, if you have more, you’re likely to spend it all on things that you may or may not feel like a great idea the next day.

Like hats. 

Eat properly

 So excited I don't know whether to laugh or cry. 

So excited I don't know whether to laugh or cry. 

Beer have the unfortunate consequence of making me feel like I've eaten two pizzas, a burger and a chocolate bar, when I've actually only had two bites of someone else's old pretzel for 12 hours.

This is not a great strategy. 

What a better grown-up than me would do is to eat a proper lunch before heading to the tent, order some food while in the tent and, of course, embrace the munchies when the tent closes 22.30. Nothing tastes better than bratwurst at that point, trust me. 

Don't try to outdrink your friends

This is important advice. Seriously. They have this thing where if you stand on the table and start chugging your beer, the whole tent starts cheering you on. That’s encouraging. And it might result in someone getting really drunk, and that, my friends, is not good. Because …

You’re a team - if one goes down, so does the rest of you

As we learned the hard way this year, if one person in the group messes up***, you're all out. In a very respectful and efficient way, but still. Your precious seats are gone and you're out in the cold again, wandering the festival trying to find a seat at 17.30. Yeah, good luck.

Did I miss anything? 

Send me a comment and I'll add the answer!


* Totally open for sponsorships.
** Another word for the traditional garments in German speaking countries.
*** Not me, for the record.

What kills my motivation

We all have our triggers. The things that motivate us, and the things that do the opposite. Where we cross our arms, put our heels down and refuse to take another step in that direction.

Motivation as a teenager

One day in high school, I stayed after class. 

“I’d like to talk to you about the way you teach”, I said to the teacher. I was not her favorite before, and with those words, I earned myself a permanent seat to her F category.

To give an example of a typical class, we would get a book to read as our homework. Later, in the classroom, we got a questionnaire to fill out - while she wrote down the answers on the whiteboard. Our job as students was to copy her words.

This would, of course, make it easy for anyone looking to make the least amount of effort. For someone looking to learn, and actually enjoyed reflecting on what I was reading, it did not resonate.

I told the teacher that we needed to be challenged and asked her to at least let us write in our own words. Her reply was to give me an F for the whole course. (Though to be fair that also included me refusing to do to any assignment consisting of mindless copy-pasting. I was not an easy teenager to deal with.)

Motivating employees

In this episode of Marie TV, she talks about motivating employees. One thing that particularly struck a chord with me was the part about challenging your employees to grow. It’s one thing to letting them do a course every year, but another to challenge them on a daily basis. 

I’ve noticed it’s not uncommon to present a task or a project to an employee with the description “this will be super easy, you barely have to do anything”. The intention is good, of course, but for a lot of us, it has the opposite effect. Instead of feeling “great, I can do this easily”, I'm left with a feeling that I want to look for a job where they believe in me enough to push me forward.

If it’s not challenging, and I don’t have room to make it challenging, it’s not likely to motivate me.

And let’s be honest, not everything can - and should - be challenging at work. Sometimes you do things because it has to be done. But if you want excited employees, you better make sure you have enough challenges in their daily lives to keep them growing. Otherwise, they will get bored. And bored people will a) do a shitty job, and 2) leave - or worse, stay.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

When listening to a professor of physics talking about quantum mechanics makes you want to press pause, so you can curl up on the sofa with a blanket and a cup of tea before you continue, it's clear you need to hear more from the said professor. 

Ever since we discovered that the Earth is round and turns like a mad spinning-top we have understood that reality is not as it appears to us: every time we glimpse a new aspect of it, it is a deeply emotional experience. Another veil has fallen.

Since that was my reaction when listening to the interview with Carlo Rovelli on On Being, I bought his book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics before I even finished the episode. 

The reason for this is that before experiments, measurements, mathematics and rigorous deductions, science is above all about visions. Science begins with a vision. Scientific thought is fed by the capacity to ‘see’ things differently than they have previously been seen.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is, obviously, about physics. But it reads like a love letter to science. You can tell every word is carefully chosen. If you read it in one go, you could finish it in a couple of hours, but you don't want that. You'll want to savor it. 

Here, in the vanguard, beyond the borders of knowledge, science becomes even more beautiful – incandescent in the forge of nascent ideas, of intuitions, of attempts. Of roads taken and then abandoned, of enthusiasms. In the effort to imagine what has not yet been imagined.

It gives you background and context for big breakthroughs in physics. For someone who has only a vague understanding of the basic concepts, I was impressed with how accessible it was. Carlo makes complex ideas easy to understand and he does it with a beautiful language. 

Quantum mechanics and experiments with particles have taught us that the world is a continuous, restless swarming of things; a continuous coming to light and disappearance of ephemeral entities. A set of vibrations, as in the switched-on hippy world of the 1960s. A world of happenings, not of things.

Read if you want a well-written introduction to spark your curiosity for physics. Or just to enjoy good writing explaining the world we live in.

My kind of mantra

The world is your oyster! You're awesome! You can do anything! Life is all sunshine and rainbows and unicorns! And if you tell yourself you're a unique and special snowflake, you are!

I don't know about you, but I feel like everyone is practicing personal affirmations these days. If you don't have have a mantra you say to yourself every morning, you're never gonna reach your full potential. It might also be a sign that I'm following way too many yogis from LA. Either way, this has never been my thing and I have yet to start writing “YOU ARE A CONFIDENT YOUNG WOMAN” on bathroom mirrors*. 

And then I caved

Despite my hesitation, since Vipassana, there is one phrase that seems to frequently pop up in my mind. The teacher said it a thousand times in the meditations and discourses, and somehow it made its way into whatever brain space mantras usually occupy. I've noticed I use it throughout the day, not only as a reminder when I get distracted during meditation, but in everything I do. 

It’s not the classic inspirational message. It doesn’t have the upbeat spirit like “I am brimming with energy and overflowing with joy” or the poetic vibe of “A river of compassion washes away my anger and replaces it with love”.**

It's slightly more to the point.

Do the work.

Yes, that's about it. What I came to understand during ten days of silence was how easy it is to get caught up in the stories we tell ourselves. Stories that we then get attached to, and keep repeating, even when they no longer benefit us. To me, the phrase "do the work" basically means:

Get your head out of your ass, stop telling yourself another rendition of the same old story and focus on the shit you need to do this very moment.

That, to me, is liberating. 

Also, can someone put that on a t-shirt?

The risk of thinking positive 

If we step away from the specifics of mantras and onto the larger picture, I'd like to acknowledge what this article covers: Thinking positive is a surprisingly risky manoeuvre on Aeon. It's worth a few minutes of your time.

When you set out to achieve something, let’s say building a company. You have an idea you believe in, you have the skill, and you get to work. Except you don’t, because you’re busy dreaming about how great it’s gonna be when it’s all built and successful. You think about the interviews you’re gonna make, the talks you’re gonna give, the validation from people you admire, although they currently have no idea you exist. 

Fills you with a warm and fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it? 

As the article explains, thinking vividly about the scenario, makes you feel like you’ve already accomplished it. It feels good, but actually has the opposite effect - it doesn’t motivate you to take action, it gives you the illusion of reward and makes you relax. 

 My project management style: Motivational Memes. 

My project management style: Motivational Memes. 

I’ve done this plenty times, which is why I've now taken a different role in my collaborations. Which has earned me the charming nickname Sergeant Sanna. Several of my friends like to paint scenarios of how perfect everything is going to be, in that magical future when success is fact and not an abstract idea. My response is “sure, sounds nice, but let’s get back to what needs to get done now”. 

It doesn't make me the most charming person at all times, and I'm not expecting any motivational speech prizes to fall in my lap any time soon, but it's important. We all need to do the work. For business. For writing. For exercising. Visualize where you want to go, it's a great practice, but be realistic about your obstacles. Then get to work. 


*Though it would make an interesting experiment since I regularly share apartments with strangers through Airbnb.
** If this is your thing, feel free to keep exploring them in this list

When your friends have kids

You know what happens when you leave your home country and spend a couple of years traveling? Your friends keep living their lives, and of the sudden, you come back to a world where they turned into real grownups.

Just this year two of my friends are getting married, two are now house-owners, another two bought new apartments, and two has given birth to babies.  

All while my biggest contemplation is if I should invest in a new suitcase since my current is now lacking one out of four wheels and the zipper only works one way, otherwise it rips open and everything falls out like the intestines of a slaughtered animal, which is kind of how I feel about my wardrobe after wearing the same dresses for months. 

Contrasts, you know. 

There are two flip sides to this. One, I get top priority when I'm in Sweden. Since they don't know when they'll see me next time, they always squeeze me into their schedules. Some of my friends I actually spend more time with now than I did when I lived a subway ride away. Two, when they are pregnant I get to bring out my camera and create some memories. (Also, awkward photo shoots I put my friends through these past fifteen years could be a post of its own.)

Which brings me to what I actually wanted to share - photos of my gorgeous friend Christine. She decided to give birth while I was in the middle of an Atlantic cruise, constantly drunk on margaritas. I may have cried a little when I finally got wifi and saw that little Lou was out and well. (I blame that on the tequila.)

But before I left for that trip, we managed to get together for the traditional pregnancy photo shoot. The weather did not agree with our original plans, instead, we improvised with what we could find in her building and went for a subdued vibe. Different from my usual style, and something I want to explore more.