I have been following Leo Babauta´s blog for a while now, it is called Zen Habits. He writes about spirituality and personal growth mostly. It is being a great friend to me. His last blog is about his reflections on his personal past decade, as well as his insights and learnings from it, which inspired me to do the same. I started thinking about all that has happened to me in the last ten years and what I learned from these things. Thank you, Leo.
A decade ago started with the year 2010. This is the year when the entire course of my life changed. It was probably the toughest year of my life. Goeran and I separated (and divorced in 2011), I left Munich and moved to Cologne, I stopped working at Siemens as a researcher and started a new job at Bayer as a project manager; with that, I also gave up my dreams of becoming a professor and went for a business career in the industry. I got my driving license, bought a car and started driving even though I hated it. All of them in the last 3 months of 2010.
2011 onwards have also been full of life. I completed my Ph.D. I moved back to Munich, then went to Barcelona, and eventually to Zurich, while I declined a job offer, which would have taken me to Oslo Norway. I changed jobs three more times (I left Bayer and went to Microsoft, then to Thoughtworks and then to Accenture). I lost my grandmother, which has left a deep deep void in me. I also lost my father. I went through two burn-outs. I started with meditation and yoga. I gained and lost many friends, started enjoying my solitude more each day. I traveled to Buenos Aires and found a new home there. Tango started to have a major role in my life. At a tango event, I met Isak and we became a couple. I chose not to move to Buenos Aires to be with him, not to Seattle to be with him. I moved to Switzerland for him. I sold our apartment in Istanbul, the only home I had there. I survived a major car accident, which could have cost me my life, and I quit driving. I was misdiagnosed with thyroid cancer and spent 1 month believing I had only three years left to live. I turned 40.
I learned a lot during the past decade. Much more so than in my entire life. I love being in my 40s (more precisely 43) and I am grateful for every single moment and experience, joyful or sad, that I have received as a gift.
These are only a few of my learnings, the ones that I could think of as most significant. I have learned so much more and keep learning every single day.
1- Let go of attachments: In 2010 I lost my life. I lost everything I had. My husband, my home, my career, my city, my friends. I was believing I could not live without any of them, but I ended up being forced to. I had no choice but to accept. So, I set up a new life. The two most difficult farewells were letting go of my marriage and my dream of becoming a professor. Losing them was losing me. I thought. In hindsight, I am grateful. It was an extremely tough experience but it set me free. This was my opportunity to have a happier life and become a better person. A better version of myself. I learned that I am who I am, I do exist the way I am. I do exist in my breathing, in my body, without any titles, any belongings. I am free. I gave all my power to redesigning my life and being in charge of it. It is still work in progress and it will always be. The difference is now is that I am loving it and I am not scared of it to death.
2- Be grateful for my health: When I was misdiagnosed with cancer and did not have the final answer for a month, I was in Cologne. It was the year I had got divorced when I was working for Bayer and working only. Almost no friends, no family, no boyfriend, living alone and in a city which I did not like at all. All I had was a secure salary and a nice flat, which was very cold in winter. When I got the news, I was appalled. I started projecting into my future life. Eventually, I would be too sick to work, to meet friends (which I didn´t have anyway), to go out and dance tango, even to go out and do grocery shopping. When you are seriously sick, you are seriously sick and you are forgotten. Healthy people don´t spend 24 hours with sick people unless they are in the same family or that is their work. I started thinking about what I was doing in Cologne then? What sense did it make to have the job, the flat that I had there if I was not going to be able to move at all at some point? Who was going to care for me? Who was going to even think about me in this busy life? I started perceiving people as belonging to two categories: those that are healthy and those that are sick. The two do not too much mingle and if you are in the latter, you really need to have a plan, practically and emotionally. It was a tough, eye-opening experience, a personal epiphany. Later, when I learned I was healthy, I felt like reborn. I literally felt I was given a second chance to live. I understood how much we take our health for granted and what it actually means not having it. I am grateful for every single day I spend in my healthy and free body. Thank you universe for that. I left Cologne and moved back to Munich, where I had many more roots and at least friends.
3- Make time for people in my life whom I love: This false-positive experience with cancer lead to another personal insight. I realized how much I was prioritizing work and career in my life. I was simply shaping all my life according to the career options, potential, and progress while ignoring everything personal, family, friends and my well-being. The irony is that the most impressive career and the fattest job title has no meaning at all if you are unable to move, stuck to the bed and alone. Your title cannot serve you water from a loving hand, cannot caress your head to put you to sleep, cannot listen to your scariest fears, and cannot tell you that it loves you. Your title is just a combination of some letters and that is all that is. This naked truth woke me up to understand what I really value. I value love and I value humans, I value my loved ones. I want to fill my life with them and not with tasks and titles, which will be forgotten in the blink of an eye. I want to own a healthy body and keep it that way as long as possible. This was a major change in my life. I greatly re-prioritized the contents of my life and started making much much more space for my mom, for my friends, for tango and my well-being. Most importantly, I changed my decision-making. I no longer unnecessarily compromise on them for some “important” career achievement.
4- Listen to my heart and not my head: I was a person who was radically rational. When I made decisions, I always weighed options, did all sorts of logical and analytical analyses and judgments and finally went with the most “sensible thing to do”. What my heart and my gut were trying to tell me all along, I ignored. Which means I totally disregarded all the wisdom and intelligence coming from my own 30+ years old body. How wrong I was…Each time I went ahead with something I decided on pure rationality, I ended up being unhappy. Each time. I gave an example of this in one of my other posts when I took a job offer like this. I ended up in burn-out. So at some point, I decided to experiment with the opposite. I listened to my heart and ignored my mind. My goodness, what happiness. My heart never let me down. That was major learning. This, of course, does not mean Jumping into obvious risks and silliness. Yet, now when my heart and my mind are in competition, I let my heart win.
5- Don’t make assumptions and don’t take things personally: I have been meditating a lot in the last years. Meditation and yoga are wonderful. I would have never ever thought I would be talking like this one day, but it is how it is. I have been a hardcore sports person and have always thought, yoga is for the elderly or for the lazy. I apologize and no offenses intended. My whole world changed when I started these practices. I became a much calmer, content, centered person. Don’t know how but it worked like magic. With all this work, I also realized how tremendously many assumptions I have been maki g each and every day. To feel safe and in control, I was believing I knew what others are thinking and why they were doing the things they were doing, or why certain things were happening. For example, “she told me that today, because she doesn’t like me”. All I was doing, however, was writing stories, creating fiction and believing in it 100% as if that was the absolute truth. How funny is that…How can I possibly know if she likes me or not unless she tells it to me explicitly? I have no superpowers for reading others’ minds or feelings. I either have facts or stories, and stories are just stories. Assumptions are stories. Once I realized this, I gained wonderful freedom. I started realizing when my mind started creating stories and I could stop with it. I also realized that it is not only me who is doing this but everyone. So why take things personally if we are all living in a fictions world? There is a wonderful book about this from Don Miguel Ruiz called The Four Agreements. It is a transforming book.
Last decade, you have been wonderful. Thank you for everything you have given me and taken away from me. Thank you that I could grow into my 40s, which I love. I am now embracing the new decade with all my curiosity and looking forward to all the new learnings that it will share with me.
Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.