The New Life – Days in Barcelona I

This is the name of a book by Orhan Pamuk, one of my favorite authors. The New Life. I never thought one day I would refer to my own life as such. My new life is very new. It is only one week old and it was born in Barcelona. Like any other newborn it is calm and sweet. I have been wanting it and planning for it, nevertheless it was not an easy birth. Now that it is there, I am happy. There are two reasons, among others, why I wanted to move to Barcelona: it is at the sea and it is warm. Warm in all senses. I felt it several times already in my first week.

My new life doesn’t include a job. As yet. So last week I went to the unemployment agency to register. As  you would expect, there is so much paperwork to be done and dependencies, and deadlines and requirements. Bureaucracy at its best and I speak no word of Spanish. As yet. One could expect horror. I had one of the most heart warming experiences in my life.

I walked into the office and started to talk in English to the lady at the reception. She grabbed another young colleague of hers, who spoke perfect English. I told him what I needed and it turns out I missed a document, which there was no way for me to get as fast as I needed. He told me not to worry, that there is a solution for everything. He talked to his colleagues, made a few calls and found a way to do it without that document. He simply went out of his way to help me. He never put his nice smile aside, and told me how much he appreciates my move, that I came here with no Spanish, trying to do all these things. My heart warmed up.

I had to  go back to the office next day to complete the process. This time there was a lady to help me. She put every effort to speak her best English with me. She did everything to make me feel comfortable and at home, while she said I was a guest and it was her duty to make me feel welcome at my new home. That she knew new beginnings are always tough, but she appreciates so much that I came here and that I try. Whenever I need help and have questions I should come and find her. I almost hugged her.

These things happen in a country with a high rate of unemployment. This man and  woman could have easily seen me as an intruder, who is trying to grab the opportunities of  their people. Coming here claiming their jobs-rare-to-find, without even speaking their language. Everything is a matter of perspective. I can’t imagine that crossed their mind a millisecond. Instead they embraced me with their big hearts and smiles. My heart is warm.

Today is the first day of my second week. I am installed, all paper work done. I know where to shop, have a Spanish mobile phone number and I even started receiving mail. I found a language school. I am starting to learn Spanish, so that I can return the warmth I receive in their own language.

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. William Shakespeare

How to Make Hard Choices by Ruth Cheng

Another talk on TED, which came with an epiphany in the end. I love such stories, or such talks for that matter. This one is about making hard choices. I have always been interested in this subject: making choices or decisions, because I repeatedly find myself in that situation. So this fifteen minutes talk spoke directly to my heart. It made me think about my own hard choices in a way I have never done before.

Ruth Chang says that there is something we have misunderstood about hard choices. These are not a source of agony, a reason for sorrowful days or sleepless nights. Instead, these are chances for us to personally grow as human beings. “Understanding hard choices helps us uncover a hidden power that each one of us possesses.” I had to think about this. Really? Is that so? I have had so many sleepless nights in my life because of the hard choices I had to make. All for nothing? But then I reconsider my thoughts, and yes I agree with her. Each time I made a hard choice and started living with the consequences, I felt better. So much better. This was not only because of the feeling of relief I got, but also because of having managed a difficult situation without breaking, and because of being in control of my own life.

Ruth Chang says that hard choices are hard because none of the alternatives is way better than the other. Therefore, even small choices can be hard. Whether to have chocolate ice cream or creme brulee can be a very hard choice indeed, if I like them both and if I am craving for sweets in that moment.  So what do we do? We take the safest option.

We decide to become engineers than artists, because statistically the probability of getting a job as an engineer is higher than that of an artist. So, we take the safest option, because we fear that we are too stupid to understand the better option if the choice to make is hard. We prefer not to take any risks and we go for the option that is rationally comforting.

This is the very mistake we make. Remember, in hard choices no option is better than the other. We simply do not know…How can we know that engineering makes us happier in our future lives? Unfortunately, there are no fast forward and rewind buttons for life. So, does it really make sense to conclude that engineering is the better option?

What goes wrong here is that we are confusing rationality with values, and think that everything what is essentially important in life has be decided and acted upon based on rationality. In other words, when deciding about important things, we think that we should be able to quantify and measure them to eliminate all kinds of uncertainty and mistakes.

But how can we? Isn’t future by default uncertain?

Values are about feelings and about attitudes towards life, so they are truly subjective. Our love for our family, or our passion for a job are fully subjective. These are not quantifiable, therefore not measurable. Or can we say, I love my mother 3 kilograms, I want to become an engineer 5 cubic meters…? So, if we cannot quantify, how can we know one is better than the other? We cannot. And the mistake we make is that we think we can…

“Understanding hard choices helps us uncover a hidden power that each one of us possesses.” Yes.

When we have hard choices to make, we cannot use our reasoning and rationalism because that doesn’t help. What we do instead, is that we create reasons for ourselves to make the choices we make. Precisely this makes us to the people we are. Our ability and power to create reasons to do the things we want to do, to pursue the careers we want to pursue, to marry the people we want to marry, to live in the countries we want to live…

Imagine a life where we have no hard choices to make, because everything is justified by reason, there are no uncertainties, there is never nothing to question…What a boring life would that be? How could we be the people we are without the choices we make?

Through the hard choices we make, “we become the authors of our own lives”.

Ruth Chang: How to Make Hard Choices