Ozdemir Asaf

WHILE

I was going to say your arrival is a blessing…

Somebody else opened the door.

 

MYTHE

Nobody no longer can leave me alone.

 

PERSPECTIVE

When I enter inside you

You are left outside.

When I look at you from outside

I cannot fit you inside.

 

ULTRA

When I put a meaning

to a word

I will call you out.

 

HUNG ON THE WALL

She will wait until death,

Fool.

I don’t die while I wait for you…

If I do.

Transience

Sevgilerde

“Sevgileri yarınlara bıraktınız

Çekingen, tutuk, saygılı.

Bütün yakınlarınız

Sizi yanlış tanıdı.

Bitmeyen işler yüzünden

(Siz böyle olsun istemezdiniz)

Bir bakış bile yeterken anlatmaya her şeyi

Kalbinizi dolduran duygular

Kalbinizde kaldı.”

At Loves

“You postponed love to tomorrows

Shy, timid, respectful.

Noone around you

knew you well.

Because of neverending work

(and you wouldn’ t want it to be this way)

When even only a little look would suffice to explain it all

All the feelings that fill your heart

Remained in your heart”

Behcet Necatigil

Story of a Sabattical – Letting Go

 

Starting a new life meant closing down the old one. It meant allowing oneself to be free of any burdens that may hinder one from being able to make free choices. My burdens which held me captive in Munich were my job, my flat and all my material possessions in that flat. I knew I did not want to stay in Munich any longer, I knew I wanted to go back home or wherever else, which meant I had to get rid of my burdens.

My sabbatical started at the end of 2015. I went to Buenos Aires and spent there almost two months. When I returned to Munich, I did not feel like spending days any more than necessary in my flat, not in my neighborhood, not in the city. Even my once favorite spots did not give me joy anymore. Looking at all my furniture and my clothes were choking me as if they were chains that tied me to that spot and I could not break away.

A month later I went to Seattle to visit my mentor and friend at work, who in the meantime had moved there and wanted me to come over and explore the local options. He suggested if I was going to change my life anyway, why not to Seattle?Thank you, Jonas, you and your family have been wonderful. I will always be grateful for the times we spent there together.

After almost a month in Seattle, my heart did not feel at home there. It is a beautiful city with lovely, kind and respectful people. Maybe it was simply not the right timing. I did not stay in Seattle. I went back to Munich and started to pack.

Releasing myself from my life in Munich was much more difficult than I had initially thought. I had naively believed that I would simply cancel my rental contract, sell or give away my furniture, get rid of my unnecessary clothes, de-register as a resident and off I’d go. And these were the things that I did after all. Yet, I had not thought about the emotional process they implied.

Canceling the rental contract was the easiest of all. Freeing myself of my furniture was the toughest. I had had that furniture for more than a decade. It looked still new and it had its life stories. Goran and I had picked each one piece together, mantled and dismantled them one by one, days and nights long. We had been sitting with our friends at that table, we had carefully brought beautiful Swedish glassware that gave us joy. I came to realize my past life was in that furniture. It was hard to let go. Even more difficult was to see that my furniture, in fact, and of course, did not mean the same to the others who wanted to acquire it. They came by and looked at my furniture, they criticized, they tried to artificially find flaws to take the price down. Sometimes they did not even show up.  They treated my furniture just like a piece of furniture, which it was. To me though, it has been the story of my thus far life.

Of all this soul-draining experience, there is only one about a lady that still fills my heart with warmth. She had three children, she was a single mother. Her boy was very sick, he needed close attention, so she could not have a regular job. They had no money to buy furniture but integrity not to beg for it. So, there was the mom standing in my hallway one afternoon dismantling my library to take it with her and still wanting to pay. I gave it to her as many other things, just so. She started to cry and told me more about her family. What touched me the most was when she told me that she hardly cries because she cannot afford it. At home she has to be strong for her children, looking happy and energetic. But here and now, where she just could be herself for a moment, she couldn’t help but cry.

I am grateful to her that she entered my life that afternoon, even if it was only for a few hours. It made a difference. I cannot even describe the feeling of happiness, contentment, and peace I felt with each little piece of stuff I was able to place in her bag for her to take away. I am hoping and wishing that their lives are easier today.

Trying to fit my whole past life into two pieces of luggage and a bag was a mix of fear, joy, freedom, relief, helplessness. Everything together.

Everything I could give away brought me closer to my personal freedom. Everything I decided to take with me meant I could not take something else, so I had to judge carefully. Since I didn’t know what expected me, I wanted to take the things that would be useful anytime, anywhere, would be sustainable and light to carry. This was my main selection criteria. However, it was hard to apply this to the things I was emotionally attached to. Like the paintings on my wall that we had brought from places we or I had visited in the world. I took their pictures and let them go…I only held on to a few books, the porcelains that my grandma had gifted me before she passed away and some Swedish glassware from my past with Goran. A dear friend of mine kept them for me so that I could get them later from him when I knew my place, wherever that may be.

After this experience, I learned to buy things in a different way. I ask myself each time why I want to buy this one piece of stuff and if I would take it with me if I again only had two pieces of luggage of space. I ask myself, instead of buying this if I could give away something else to someone else, who is in need more than myself. I learned that material possessions give me joy only on seldom occasions and only if they come alongside emotions.

Closing my apartment and letting go of my things took about two months. A life-changing two months for me.

I now know what it means to let go of a home and ‘my things’ to become free. I feel powerful and I know I could do it again even though I hope not to have to. I also know the toll it takes physically and emotionally, and that I can recover from it in time. That eventually I am a happier, stronger person.

I learned that giving fulfills me a lot more than receiving and that the lovingkindness experienced in one lady’s grateful crying can heal many wounds.

We make a living with what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

Sir Winston Churchill

Gratitude

IMG_5490.JPGI was twenty-six years old. A happy, shiny, restless girl who was enjoying the life to its full extent in Munich. I was a student, having many international friends and taking everything that the city had to offer. I had a student job, a nice little cute student dorm to live in and lots of free time to fill with activities. Soon though, restless as I am, all these experiences started not to fulfill me and once again the urge started to show up in me to leave, to go far away, to discover new places, people, and experiences. Precisely this urge had brought me to Germany from Istanbul, and now again it was forcing me to move on.

My wish to leave was so strong that I could not resist. I got lucky. I got a scholarship to go to the USA, to the Computer Science department of the Kansas State University. A few months later I found myself in Kansas.

I still remember that day. It was the first week of August in 2002. The international office of the university had organized an orientation seminar for the newly arrived foreign students. It was in an auditorium, and the campus was so big that it took me ages to find it. I have an awful sense of orientation. When I arrived I was late for at least ten minutes. When I entered the auditorium I found a hundred pairs of eyes staring at me down towards the doorstep. So embarrassing. I apologized and took a seat.

In the afternoon there was a picnic for the foreign students. I met a little group of Swedish students. One of them approached, a tall slim guy with wonderful green eyes and a very soft, friendly face and a heartwarming smile. “Hi, I am Goran, I saw you, you were late”. And he smiled. I smiled back. I did not know yet that I had met the love of my life.

Three months later Goran and I were a couple. It is hard for me to name it as a “couple only” because it feels like it does not describe what we had. Goran and I were soul mates,  companions, best friends, the two halves of one. We were one. We were like two lost children who had finally found each other in this big big world and we were going to be together until death sets us apart.  Everything else was impossible. It was like magic, and everybody could see it. We were shining and glowing and people around us could almost touch this light radiating from us.

A few months later we returned together to Europe. One year later Goran moved to Munich and we married. It was a wonderful December day in Stockholm and we said yes to each other in this little courtroom overlooking the sea. A most precious memory in my life.

Goran and I were together 10 years. Ten wonderful years that I am grateful for. I would not want to miss a single day, I would not want to change a single day.

We said goodbye to each other before the death could set us apart. I remember that day. It was a September day in Munich, and we waved each other goodbye at the train station. I think it has been the saddest day in my life.

Goran and I had loved each other, it was almost transcendental. It was so deep, so connected, so indescribable. We loved each other with the full heart of two lost and hurt children. We grew up together and while growing up we lost each other. We tried to reach out back, we tried to reconnect, we tried to find again what we lost fearing at the same time to admit that we lost. We held hands as tight as ever, but we felt growingly lonely.  On that September day, we said goodbye. I think the saddest day in my life.

Seven years past that day, I am now another person. Life gave me other sad and other happy days since then. I grew while still trying to keep the little child in myself. I would not have done anything differently; we had to say yes and then no to each other so that each of us can become the persons we are today. Healthier, and more in touch with oneself. I never thought I would love again that way. I did. It took 5 years, but I did. I loved again that way as a grown-up this time. Thank you, Goran for the wonderful 10 years. Thank you, life for everything you gave me in my 42 years. I would not want to change a single day.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

John F. Kennedy

 

Story of a Sabattical – The Beginning

57It all started with letting go. I had to learn to let go. It was not easy, at the same time it was my first step towards a happier self.

In 2013 I moved (back) to Munich from Cologne, Germany. I had studied in Munich, I had a history there and my friends, who have been a family to me. In Cologne, I was alone even worse, I was lonely. I was working a lot and then traveling away on most of the weekends. I think, to numb away my feelings of loneliness. At some point, I decided life should offer me more than this, so I made a move to go back to Munich. And it worked.

I got a wonderful PM (Program Manager) position with Microsoft (FAST Enterprise Search under Office 365) and loved my job and my team. The headquarters were in Oslo and Tromso in Norway, so I traveled there often and worked with other wonderful people. Until one day they decided to consolidate the Munich office to Norway and asked me to move to Norway for good. Now, that was a difficult decision. I had just got back to Munich and feeling home again, was finding all the emotional support from my friends and feeling really good being there. On the other hand, I really loved my job and wanted to be able to keep doing it. Then somehow magically and just in time, a PM position opened at the Bing office in Munich, whose offices were essentially one floor down. They offered me the position and I took it because it seemed like the best solution to all of my practical problems. My mind told me this thing, while my heart was not convinced. And my heart was right. I did not become happy at Bing. This experience deserves its own text and space. For now, all I want to say is that since then I have learned to follow my heart and not my mind.

I spent two years at Bing and in Munich growing unhappier every day and feeling too trapped to breakthrough. My job paid well. Hundreds of others would have jumped jumps to have my position. I was surrounded by smart people. I was literally going to work on foot or by bike, which was a luxury. I lived in Munich, which is what I had thought, where I wanted to live. I had my friends and Munich is a nice, safe, secure city. I had a nice flat with nice furniture at a very nice district of the city. I was having a life, which many others would be dreaming of, yet I was unhappy to the point of depression.

My shiny life from outside was quite dark from inside. I worked long long and irregular hours so that my private life was impacted. I did not share the core values of the working environment I was in. The tasks were not interesting enough and the human relationships were difficult for me. Many days I did not see the point in executing my job. I did not have a partner nor a relationship, and I picked up traveling away again almost every weekend. I did not see a clear purpose in my life. My body was exhausted, which contributed to my unhappiness. I felt helpless not knowing what to do.

Until one day when my mom told me “Pinar come home. Before you get sick, please come home”. It was so heartfelt, so genuine and so light. At that moment, I felt I had a home I could go back. Back to where I come from. I was not so lost as I thought and I had a choice. I could choose to stay and live this life I lived unhappily. Or I could let go. I could choose to go home.

I chose to go home. And my second life began. Thank you, mom.

 

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

Joseph Campbell

Thank You ThoughtWorks

I owe you this ThoughtWorks: Thank You.

Thank you for bringing me back to who I once was. Someone who believed in herself and in what she did, who is passionate, joyful and full of energy.

I came to ThoughtWorks (TW) because of a good friend’s recommendation. He said “Pinar I know you are going on a sabbatical and jobs are the last thing you want to hear about. Still, when you start looking for jobs again one day consider TW, it is a great company and I think you two would fit nicely”. I said thank you and moved to Barcelona, where there was no TW office. After almost a year of sabbatical, indeed I wanted to start working again, and working on what I used to be passionate about: innovative digital technology. Not on something else as I had initially assumed. Magically, during that one year TW did open an office in Barcelona and they were looking for project managers.

I applied to TW. They made me go through 5 interviews, as they always do, including logic tests, live presentations and a dedicated interview to social matters, ethics and individual values to assess the culture fit. It was an adventure. I did all five of them in the same week, the final 3 being on the same day and a few hours before I boarded my plane to Buenos Aires. They gave me the answer on that very evening, so that I could happily fly to my vacation.

I started in March, worked for 6 months and left TW on my own will.  I left also my heart with them. I had a team of the youngest, most diverse, most passionate, sweetest and smartest group of people, who were not only colleagues but friends, families (literally, as there were a few married couples in my team) and comrades of each other.

I am professionally reborn with TW Spain and I will always remain grateful to them for that. They cared for me to the point that they brought food without me asking when I worked too long. They literally ran into my arms to hug me, when I had been away too long on my projects. They praised me at every opportunity and never let me down when I needed help.

In my first month, the research director Erik, came to the Barcelona office, announcing the dates of their annual conference the XConf. I told him I wanted to give a talk on AI topics at the conference. Without much discussion and him not knowing me at all, he welcomed me warmly to XConf and said that I could speak as I pleased.

He didn’t know how  much this meant to me. I had been off the business scene for a year, I hadn’t been presenting at conferences for many years. I used to be passionate about presenting my research and ideas. Before, during and after my PhD I had taken every opportunity to present things. I love to share what I know and I am the happiest person if someone finds value in what I share and can be inspired. A long break intimidates you. I had asked for this opportunity to challenge myself and to prove myself that I still can do it. I am up and alive. I have my passion and capabilities still. Erik didn’t know what was going on in me. Of course not, how could he? He simply trusted me. That’s it.

I talked about Natural Language Processing and Conversational Agents twice at XConf, which happened once in Hamburg Germany and once in Manchester UK. I had some of the most emotional, inspiring, fulfilling two hours of the last few years of my life. I was one with my audience. I felt I was contributing my little contribution to this community. I felt happy, alive and creating something meaningful.

Thank you TW for the past six months with you. It was a wonderful ride. I hope I could return some of what I got from you personally and professionally. I left my heart in Barcelona and TW to sail off again to discover new shores. I know this is want to do at this stage of my life and I am excited about what will come across my way. I don’t want to say I am not looking back though. Because I do. And I feel grateful and I feel content. Thank you lovely people of TW Spain. Muchas gracias para todo.

 

Buenos Aires Querida

I am on my way back from Buenos Aires to Barcelona. It is the third time that I am on this route and it is the first time that I am not heartbroken to say goodbye. Still, secretly in me I am wishing if only I had one more week… Each time I leave Buenos Aires, I leave a part of myself there and I bring a part of her with me. Each time I am in Buenos Aires it is a process of self exploration and healing for me. Not a light one.

When I had to leave Buenos Aires last year, I decided to move there so that I don’t have to say goodbye again. Then my life has changed and Barcelona became my new home, which is a good compromise.

What is it with this city that I am so fascinated by and driven to? Tango is one reason and then there are many others: the warmth of her people, her imperfection, her big heart, her soul that shows that she suffered, her deep thoughts. Buenos Aires is not a city for everyone. You need to be able to be patient with her and forgive her often times. In return she will give you some most blissful memories and moments of your life.

Each time I am in Buenos Aires I discover myself again. I see my fears, insecurities and helplessness. Tango throws it at my face and I have to deal with them, yet Buenos Aires never lets me down. Her people hold me when I fall and I stand up stronger.

One month ago when I arrived, I couldn’t dance. I was blocked. This is already the second time that it happens to me. Last year was the same. It is painful. It feels like you have so much to tell but you lost your language. You cannot speak. You stutter. Sometimes some sounds come out and you get hopes. They vanish as fast as they come and what is left behind is sadness. You have so much to tell.

This is happening to me because I want to speak the language perfectly. I know how it feels when it is perfect for me. I have been there. In search of that perfection I lose myself, I get disconnected from my body. My mind takes over. I start to look for it more desperately, I punish myself for not being able to find it, then I get tense and blocked. It is a vicious circle. I get blocked and I cannot dance, I get even more blocked because I don’t dance. All these thoughts going on in my head that I cannot stop.

Buenos Aires knows me. Much better then myself. And she gently helps me out of it. She did last year and she did it again this year. When I arrived, I could hardly make a step. My body was full of tension and I had so much pain because of it. I didn’t want to go out to the milongas because I didn’t want to blame myself and I didn’t want to transmit my tension to anybody. Yet I wanted to dance. I cannot not dance, it makes me so happy…

I started seeing my teachers, two dear persons to me, who know me so well. Who know how I torture myself and who can help me out of it and they did it. Again. I started going out to the milongas. I forced myself out. I went to those that no one goes except for the very old milongueros. I found warmth and joy and sunshine in their embraces. They made me feel like a princess, which gave me self confidence again. Their clear and simple dancing put structure into my body. As I became more free day by day, my body started to remember. Day by day I started to dance better.

One day into my third week I found the perfection I was looking for. It was both a blessing and a curse as I would find out later. I found it one night at Maipu and Canning. I was connected with myself and with everyone, from my center. Young old, tall short, slim, robust…With everyone I had the connection. I felt I could dance forever. No matter with whom I danced, we spoke the same language. I was in heaven.

I woke up happy next day, expecting the same, as I had now found my long lost tango. That night I didn’t find it again. I got scared and intimidated. I stared searching for it desperately. In every partner, in every step, in every embrace I looked for it. My mind was so busy with trying to find it that I didn’t listen to the music, I didn’t live the moment. I grew sad and desperate and tense. That night was sadness as much as the previous night was pure joy. I came home devastated, only to find a FB message from a dear friend of mine who had seen everything while I was at the milonga. His message woke me up to myself. It read,

it is not a dance
it is tango

it is not about how I move my feet
it is not about how I hold my arms
it is about how I share my soul

tango is about feeling. If it feels right, It looks right. The difficult thing for the followers is trusting and letting go, much more to people that is used to be in control. …..relax, and let us take care of you…in the meantime, close your eyes and enjoy….remember the connection is on the chest and the seduction is on the feet…

I fell asleep. I woke up and decided to try to let go. Went to the next milonga. I will always be grateful to my dear friend for teaching me to gain my freedom…. For once, I was able to be free of my thoughts. I decided not to punish myself and I could. I decided to listen to the music and give up all the responsibility and I could. That night I had my connection back again. Magic.

There is much that I learned again in Buenos Aires. I will share more because I believe in each one of us there is an insecure and burdened child. Maybe Buenos Aires helps. She helped me. It is not about tango. It is about life. That night I learned, again, what it means to have self-compassion, to accept oneself, to like oneself no matter what and to let go.

Man is free at the moment he wishes to be – Voltaire

The Beautiful Truth

…is the name of a movie I haven’t yet seen. I read that it is a documentary movie about a doctor’s quest for curing cancer through alternative methods. Dr. Max Gerson is his name.

The quotation you will now read in the next lines is from this movie that I haven’t yet seen. It stumbled upon it by chance when looking for something else. Best things always happen when you least expect.

Reading it made me breath and smile big because I found myself in it. It is a beautiful piece of text which I want to return to whenever I am searching for meaning in my life. If you are also in search of it, don’t search it too far. It is in the lines written below, and in the moments of the days of your life.

Live A Life That Matters

What will matter ready or not, someday it will all come to an end. There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.

All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else. Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance. It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.

Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear. So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will expire. The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.

It won’t matter where you came from, or on what side of the tracks you lived, at the end. It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant. Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured? 

What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave. 

What will matter is not your success, but your significance. What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.

What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence, but your character.

What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.

What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you. What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.

Choose to live a life that matters.

– Michael Josephson

User Story Mapping

I read a wonderful book, User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton. If you are a Product Manager in an Agile environment and are to read only one book, then make it this one. It is not only eye-opening, insightful and full of content, it is also funny. I laughed and learned a lot.

What is User Story Mapping? It is a technique he developed over time and with experience, which helps writing effective user stories for a product backlog. In fact, the crucial point here is not writing them but living them and making them happen together with your team. The stories have value as long as there is a shared understanding for them among the team and the stakeholders, i.e. that they make sense and the same sense to everybody on the team. So much so that they want to to deliver it.

User Stories are typically little stories composed of a sequence of tasks that a user of a (software) product would do to accomplish something. For example, a user story can be “Reserve a Thai Restaurant online for tonight” and it would consist of the following following tasks: Open your favorite search engine — Search for a Thai Restaurant — Select your favorite — Visit the restaurant website — Click on online reservation — Enter reservation date and time — Confirm and send. Now this is a very basic illustration of a story, but it can give you the idea. The tasks in the story are to be read from left to right, in the so called narrative order, so that with the last task you read you know the whole story.

Why is User Story Mapping good a thing? Because it gives structure and a backbone to the your product development process. It helps you to frame the who, the what and the why for your product. In other words, it lets you define your users, your product, and the benefit your users will get out of your product. All makes sense, no? Otherwise why would you bother producing your product?

User Story Mapping’s structure is like this:  On the way to developing your product you have several Goals to achieve. Each one of these Goals are composed of Activities, and those are broken into Stories. A sequence of Tasks in a given order (left-to-right) make a Story. Tasks may have Subtasks (e.g. putting on my shoes is a subtask of getting dressed). In this way, a Story can but doesn’t have to yield  a MVP (Minimum Viable Product), but a few of them together should yield at least a Minimum Viable Solution (MVS).

If there are too many Stories, then there are potentially multiple MVPs (or MVS for that matter). So those Stories should wait the next iteration(s) to be included.

A User Story typically has the following format: As a <Role> I want to <Functionality> so that I can <Value>. For example, as a <jazz music fan> I would like to <know the weekly concerts in my town>, so that I can <buy tickets online automatically>. This format conveys the necessary information in a clear and concise way. It gives a first overview of what the system has to offer for that type of user (also called Persona) i.e. the jazz music fan.

For the fun of it, I did a User Story Map for myself, while hoping it can show you its power. It shows the structure that I have been describing. My product is: Pinar’s New Life in Barcelona. This product offers me a new life at a new city, therefore I think it will add a lot of value to my life in general. I expect it to be a wonderful product and this is the User Story Map towards the first MVP.

Product: Pinar’s New Life in Barcelona
Goal: Release new life in Barcelona
Activities:
Activity 1: Set up social life
Story 1.1: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Rent a Flat> so that I can <Live>
Task 1.1.1: Search for flats to rent
Task 1.1.2: Make appointments for visits
Task 1.2.3: Sign contract
Story 1.2: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Find Friends> so that I can <Socialize>
Task 1.2.1: Find relevant social events
Task 1.2.2: Visit social events
Task 1.2.3: Join hobby clubs
Task 1.2.4: Exchange contacts with participants/members at the events
Story 1.3: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Learn Spanish> so that I can <Communicate>
Task 1.3.1: Find a language school
Task 1.3.2: Register to the language school
Task 1.3.3: Follow classes
Task 1.3.4: Do homework
Activity 2: Set up professional life
Story 2.1: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Find a Job> so that I can <Get an Income>
Task 1.3.1: Prepare CV
Task 1.3.2:Search for relevant vacancies
1.3.2.1: Subtask: Search on the Web
1.3.2.2: Subtask: Search among the personal network
Task 1.3.3:  Apply for the vacancy
Task 1.3.4: Go to interview
Task 1.3.5: Sign contract

User Story Mapping is a fun and powerful tool to create and structure your stories towards your first MVP. The book itself, besides being fun, brings you closer to the principles of Lean.  Hope you discover it for yourself as well and drop me line if you do so 🙂

 If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story. Orson Welles

Self Compassion

If you are like me, you also lack self compassion. It means you do not love yourself enough and accept yourself the way you are. Probably you are also a perfectionist which goes hand in hand. Ironically, you can be a very compassionate person to the others. You can feel their pain as well as pleasure, have lots of empathy, you may want help others and easily forgive their severest mistakes. Yet, when it comes to you it is a different story.

How does lack of self compassion manifest itself? In sum, you predominantly have negative thoughts about yourself. You are not smart enough, slim enough, successful enough, not a good enough dancer, not a good enough mother…You see the connection with perfectionism? You create a totally unrealistic figure of the perfect you and you constantly judge yourself and punish yourself for not being that. You do not realize that no human being can be that perfect figure simply because we are humans and we cannot be flawless. Instead of saying “well, I am the way I am and I am enough”, you nonstop worry about not having performed good enough. Performing is the keyword here.

People without self compassion define their worth according to how well they perform anything. It goes like: I have succeeded in managing these 5 projects, so I am a good project manager, so I am worth existing. It follows that if I did not succeed I do not deserve to exist. Similarly: I have danced the whole night with the best dancers, so I am a good dancer, so people love me because I dance well, so I deserve to exist.  Which also means if I do not dance well, people do not love me and I should not exist. Welcome existential fear. To avoid that fear we madly try to become perfect and enter a vicious cycle.

The reasons for lack of self compassion come from our childhood. No surprise. We might have been raised up in a family that values perfection, performance and achievement. For example, you may have been rewarded if your room was always clean and tidy, if you did not cry, if you did not ask for things. You may have been punished otherwise. As a result, you learned that to be loved and appreciated by your parents, whom you depend on to exist, you have to perform well. Your being loved depends on a condition, which propagates to the later stages of your life. In the end, you do not know what is unconditional love, so that you cannot love yourself unconditionally either.

Once I understood the concept, I started to work on it. I have to say it is very hard work, at least for me. Some days I succeed, some days I fail. Everyday I practice to embrace myself the way I am. If I put on 2 kilos I try to tell myself it does not change the fact that I have friends who like me with or without my 2 kilos, that I am still healthy and free. If I fail in a job interview, I try to analyze what happened and if there is anything I can improve on my side for the next one. Yet, I do not go around saying to myself I am not good enough, smart enough etc. Instead, I try to think of all my accomplishments until now. I may reread my CV to remind me of those. If I have a quarrel or conflict with someone, I try to understand the situation and put myself in her shoes before I jump start blaming myself for the things I did or said wrong. She may also be on her bad day and not being fair to me. And most importantly I breathe a lot. We forget to breathe so easily because we are so carried away by our thoughts, beliefs and fears. Breathing calls me back to here and now and releases a lot of tension from my body.

Finally, there is a researcher I discovered, Dr. Kristin Neff, who works on self compassion and whose findings helped me quite much. Here are the daily short exercises she recommends. Here is her website, Self Compassion.org, which has lots of resources and a TED talk. I read her book as well, which I recommend if you have time or want to take the time for it.

When the light has been removed and my wife has fallen silent, aware of this habit that’s now mine, I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by. For why should I fear any consequence from my mistakes, when I’m able to say, “See that you don’t do it again, but now I forgive you.”

Seneca