December 26, 2012

What I have learnt (in 2012)

This year is coming to an end and the time for making plans for the next is upon us. Even if you are not the type of person that likes making new years resolutions these holidays are as good a time as any for planning your next move. I encourage you to give your thoughts some room and take time in between Christmas dinner and counting down from 10 to make a decision about your personal priorities. Here are some of my reflections about the year that has passed:

What I have learnt in 2012

As a trainee I have had the chance to work on several projects at my bank and found ways to test and develop my abilities at leading from within a group. I had my troubles at first, taking on too much responsibility for the outcomes and trying to force my ideas on people where I needed to be convincing them and taking their opinions openly. Everything worked out fine and I found new pleasure in my role after I relaxed into the idea that the success or failure of our common effort was not 100% in my hands. 
Lesson: Leadership takes practice (or: having read all the advice on a topic does not mean you know how to follow it) 

For three monthy I worked in human resources. I was there for quite a few job interviews and got to challenge people with probing questions about their life and career. I got to decide who was invited for interviews and whose resumé did not fit the description of the job. This task was difficult to do well because while I was impressed by some people and underwhelmed by others the first and last question always was if they were the right person for the job. 
Lesson: Testing and judging people is not the job I want.

This whole year was pretty much entirely shaped by work. I found less and less time to regularly follow my hobbies and other interests that make me feel complete. When I decided to run a half marathon, inspired by a coworker, I trained hard for three months and achieved my goal. Still: motivation is harder and energy is scarcer than before. 
Lesson: Keeping up with many interests at once takes a lot of effort. In the future I will give more attention to my work-life-balance again.

December 20, 2012


ARIES (March 21-April 19): Swans, geese, and ducks molt all their flight feathers at once, which means they may be unable to fly for several weeks afterwards. We humans don't do anything like that in a literal way, but we have a psychological analog: times when we shed outworn self-images. I suspect you're coming up on such a transition, Aries. While you're going through it, you may want to lie low. Anything resembling flight -- launching new ventures, making big decisions, embarking on great adventures -- should probably be postponed until the metamorphosis is complete and your feathers grow back. 
I have been working a lot in this last year. Since I came to my current employer at the end of last year I have been learning a lot about the financial world and business in general. My dad remarked on how my use of language had changed to a different vocabulary that includes all those professional terms and expressions like "communicate changes within the team", "control the resources of our project", "manage my time". I seldom emerged from work to really reflect on the changes in my life and in myself. However I still make sure that I get to relax and spend time with my friends and family, but that leaves little time to sit down and be still. 

Note to self: Make more time to reflect and plan the future next year and get ready to complete the metamorphosis! Take flight again!

September 07, 2012

Principles of Change

Through a blogpost by "Civilised Money" I stumbled across this guy, Carne Ross. Some years ago he was a British diplomat who stood up to Blair and Bush when they proposed war in Iraq on the basis of misleading information, today he sides with the Occupy movement, works on creating an alternative banking system and confesses that he hates hierarchy. Thus, he wrote a book on a leaderless revolution. According to him there are nine principles that make real political change possible.

He explains his principles in this very nice in-depth interview by one of my journalistic heroes, Bill Moyers. I really enjoyed listening to those two, who really have seen the inside of important and powerful political institutions until becoming somewhat disillusioned and eventually both turning to other political means in their respective - and quite impressive - ways. It's people like that that give me motivation and inspiration for action, so I would like to share their conversation with you:

So here are the nine principles of Carne Ross's leaderless revolution:

1. Excavate your convictions - What are the things you really really care about? this knowledge will give you the motivation to act.

2. Who's got the money and who's got the gun? - Take a step back and analyze the situation thoroughly. What mechanisms are at work here? Where does the action need to take place?

3. Act as if the means are the end - Inspired by Gandhi, Ross says that the form of politics you choose is the end. So you can only reach a goal, if you embody the principles of that goal.

4. Ask, don't assume - The Golden Rule is only a proxy that assumes that other people are similar to us. We should just go and find out, what people actually think.

5. Address those suffering the most - Happiness is not empirically measurable, suffering however is. And therefore it's both easier and more ethical to take care of the sufferers first. The poor, the hungry, the sick.

6. Consult and negotiate - Measures taken without including people in the process won't work as intended or they won't work at all. Don't take people for granted and consult with everybody in a participatory democracy.

7. Big picture, little deeds - Individuals are agents of change, because by doing the little deeds they do every day they create the world we live in. The same way, with a good look at the big goals we can better choose our small daily steps towards them.

8. Use non-violence - Non-violence doesn't mean pacifism, nor does it mean doing nothing. Non-violent action is a proven way to build positive and lasting social change.

9. Kill the king - (a chess metaphor) Voting won't solve problems, action will. There is no silver bullet, don't think there is a simple solution. Your actions matter, not your opinions.

Have a great weekend! And be good :)

August 29, 2012

Still rockin'

Old Spice Muscle Music from Terry Crews on Vimeo.

This is me giving a life sign. I had a very interesting talk today. Good interesting. The kind of talk that you leave with a sense of appreciation for the other person. With clear feelings, and with perspective. All may not be good, but it's alright. It's good to know what matters. I feel that we all need a reminder now and then, so here is one for you. And while you gain distance from your worried mind, go ahead and play the muscle drum ;-) Sausages!

May 19, 2012

Chuck Close writes to his younger self

As you will have noticed reading my blog I am a fan of inspirational people. Artists have always given me special outlooks and insights, because their work consists of introspection and measuring their own reaction to things they like or don't like to a higher degree than less aware people.
I aspire to that level of awareness where I can recognize what I like and what I am good at more easily. To define this clearly for myself is a task that I would give my younger self. So I am happy to have found these words by Chuck Close, an American portrait painter and photographer, who writes to his younger self and all of us what hindsight has taught him.

Source: Video on CBS News / Picture by John Agoncillo, check out his beautiful blog

This is a note to myself at age 14: 

I WAS in the eighth grade and was told not to even think about going to college. I couldn't add or subtract, never could memorize the multiplication tables, was advised against taking algebra, geometry, physics or chemistry and therefore would not get into any regular college. Since I was good with my hands, I was advised to aim for trade school, perhaps "body and fender" work. 

NEVER let anyone define what you are capable of by using parameters that don't apply to you. 

I APPLIED to a junior college in my hometown with "open enrollment", got in and embarked on a career in the visual arts.

VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING I've done is influenced by my learning disabilities. I think I was driven to paint portraits to commit images of friends and family to memory. I have face blindness, and once a face is flattened out, I can remember it much better. 

INSPIRATION IS for amateurs -- the rest of us just show up and get to work. Every great idea I've ever had grew out of work itself. 

SIGN ON to a process and see where it takes you. You don't have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today you will do what you did yesterday and tomorrow you will do what you did today. Eventually you will get somewhere. 

NO ONE gets anywhere without help. Mentors, including your parents and an occasional teacher, can make you feel "special" even when you are failing in other areas. Everyone needs to feel special. 

MY FATHER died when I was 11. That was the tragedy of my life, a horrible thing to happen when you are so young. Oddly enough there was a gift in this tragedy. I learned very early in life that the absolute worst thing can happen and you will get past it and you will be happy again. Losing my father at a tender age was extremely important in being able to accept what happened to me later when I became a quadriplegic. 

IF YOU are overwhelmed by the size of a problem -- break it down into many bite-sized pieces. 

QUADRIPLEGICS DON'T envy the able-bodied - we envy paraplegics. We think they've got an easier row to hoe. THERE IS always someone worse off than you. 

I AM confident that no artist has more pleasure day in and day out from what he or she does than I do.

April 08, 2012

Happy Easter from Spain

Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter Sunday (Domingo de Pascua), is a very big week in Spain.

Different "parroquias" (parishes) in every city celebrate the Passion and Resurrection of Christ in long and solemn processions during the whole week. There are special gowns and dresses worn and brass bands play slow marches to the steps of sometimes more than 100 people carrying immense altars with a statue of Jesus on the cross or Holy Mary.

On the sidelines people are often less serious. Hotels everywhere are booked to the limit when loads of tourists flood Seville and are handed schedules where to be at what time. It is a holiday week and the processions are an event that you attend socially. Spaniards sit for hours on their prepared stools and chairs next to the street where the procession will pass, eating "pipas" (sunflower or pumpkin seeds) and chatting with friends. Until finally a big "Aww" spreads across the crowd, when the altar comes into sight around a street corner and people marvel at how beautiful the shrine looks and clap for the people carrying it. Sometimes the procession stops for a while, giving the altar bearers a moment to gather strength again. With a ring of hand bells the altar is picked up again and is carried further down the streets until it enters the church it belongs to.

 In other news my travel companion and I were stuck in Málaga for two more days than we had originally planned. We had been informed that all the supermarkets would be closed on Thursday and Friday and we had duly bought all the extra food we needed. What I forgot to consider however was that I had parked the car in that same supermarket's free parking lot ;-) Things happen, and I have no regrets for spending an extra day in a very pleasant coastal city after many days of constant travelling.

Today I am sending a big "Happy Easter" out to all of you. I do it in the hope that - whichever faith or non-faith, persuasion or non-persuasion you adhere to - you are enjoying a peaceful Sunday with your loved ones.

April 02, 2012

Travelling together

In the past I have tried out a lot of different travel styles (except for all inclusive vacations, not really my thing) and travelled with many people. I travelled alone in my car, took planes, buses, trains and ferries. I have slept in hotels, hostels, motels, on people's couches, in my car, went camping and even spent nights at bus stations. I went on some trips with people I had only met a short while before and took journeys with some of my closest friends and my family. You should think that by now I should have decided which is the best way to travel for me :)

But it's not like that. With every new destination and every new person things are different. I change while travelling and learn something about myself. Travelling with only one other person is maybe the most enlightening experience among the possible constellations, more enlightening to me than it was travelling alone and certainly quite different from travelling with two or more people.

Being on the road can be stressful. There is a co-dependent relationship between two people who have decided to stick together for the time being. None of you can easily do "their own thing", take all their time, be always comfortable. So you need to do a lot of planning, calculate for down-time and food and accomodation to everybody's liking. I have heard stories of many a travelling group that has broken up over some sort of fight or other. If you wanna test a relationship, go on a long trip with your partner. By the end, you will know what the two of you can withstand and you will not only know your partner better, but also yourself. And you will be better for it.

On a related note I send you greetings from Portimão (Algarve) in Southern Portugal. I might tell the many adventures I have lived through with my travel companion on another day. Life is good and time is passing quickly :) For your benefit I have added a picture of probably the most perfect travelling couple I have met so far, two charming Chinese people I saw at the Mosteiro dos Gerónimos in Belém (Lisbon).

March 24, 2012

Back on the road

I am packing again. In the next three weeks there should be enough stories to tell from my roadtrip through Spain. I am travelling with a friend, visiting new and well-known places. People are always different though, so I am looking forward to a very interesting time. It's spring and temperatures are rising, so there will be oranges and cafés con leche and possibly some beaches to enjoy around Spain and Portugal. This is what I am expecting:

I Love People: 5,000 Miles, 930 People, 162 Seconds from Benjamin Jenks on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend!

January 02, 2012

Occupying banking

If someone had told me half a year ago that I would be working for a bank fulltime and loving it, I would have been completely incredulous. For all my principles of keeping an open mind and trying not to judge, banking was among the things I could hardly imagine myself doing. To have money as the content of my work, to worry about interest rates, capital, credit lines, wasn't a very romantic or fulfilling picture.

And it wasn't very likely either. Mind you that in my education I haven't put great emphasis on the kind of skills commonly associated with banks. Sure, I know a little bit about industrial accounting, have completed a two-year round in a big company as an apprentice, but first and foremost I have spent the last years of my life as a social science student at university doing scholarly things like reading, traveling, hearing lectures, and learning a bunch of languages. Also, sociologists around here have a reputation of being somewhat to the left of the political spectrum, while the future bankers - your clichée economics majors - are generally deemed a lot more conservative.

So if life were a straight line I would probably be protesting with the occupy movement now or writing about what is wrong with our financial and political system today (I still might, just wait *g*). Instead I am sitting at a desk 40 hours a week working for a financial institute associated with one of the biggest banks in Germany. And I'm happy with it!

A huge part of my fun at work is owed to my position in the company. I am a trainee in the business development department and thus the topics I am concerned with have a lot to do with societal, economic and technological trends. Yes, the angle is financial, and the products I constantly learn more about are deposits, exchange tradeable funds, and credit cards, but I enjoy the complexities of this new and unknown field. I am surrounded by intelligent and fun people who enjoy what they are doing. They do not comply with any of the stereotypes that the news proliferate, when they report about the debt crisis and wall street execs. Those people exist somewhere, I am sure, but my definition of banking and bankers has become a lot more concrete in the last three months and I have gained respect for the people making a living with it.

Of course understanding the financial industry is not the same as saying it is all good. There are a lot of things that need improvement. More transparency is probably the biggest change I would wish for and possibly also the one the financial industry is most afraid of, because money is earned every time customers do not fully understand a product. A lot of the revenue is justified however, because banks are in the risk management business and taking a risk off people's hands should be rewarded. But in the long run, we might all be better off, if kick-backs from selling expensive and complex products were replaced by annual fees for bank advisory services. My knowledge of the matter is still thin of course and tomorrow another piece of the puzzle might come to me that changes my outlook. But that's part of the beauty of a new job, so much to learn!

2012 will bring many new things to my life and I will keep shifting activities for a while to come. One of them is blogging and it remains something I truly enjoy. I modestly hope to contribute something to your life as well as my own. I hope you are all doing well and have started 2012 with good energy. Take this smile and have a great week :)