A work in progress

I went to work early today to use the Internet here and get some work done. Yeah, when you have a job situation like mine, sentences sometimes sound like that. They seem to make little sense to someone outside of the situation.

I have a job at the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall in Hamburg. Part-time, which means I go three or four times a week.

And there is my freelance work, which I do from home. Though it seems to veer into a side hustling situation as well, so that I may diversify my income some more. Working on that. Or rather, thinking on it for the time being.

Having been offline for the last few days – more or less anyway – I have not had much opportunity to further my research.

What I did realize is that I need to work on this blog more. I don’t think I can make it quite as diverse as I initially planned or hoped to do. Oddly, these things seem to develop a life of their own and I have found myself drifting in the direction that I am currently taking. Talking a lot about personal growth and stuff.

So, my blog is as much a work in progress as I am.

Indeed, with every bit of personal growth and development, I go through, so this blog continues to develop. I share my experiences and thoughts here and you are allowed to make of that what you like.

When I started out, I wanted to make regular posts on a variety of topics that interest me. But my focus has become much narrower than that. And with everything else that’s been happening, I lost focus for a while.

Now that I have regained it, it has become narrower even than before, though I plan on widening it again somewhat.

I’d like for you to join me. I appreciate some company, thoughts, insights, whatever you wish to share. And, perhaps, your support as well.

The view from the office today

The Art of Accepting Help

Have you ever read “The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer? Good book. I recommend.

I am always reminded of it when it comes to my difficulties with asking for or accepting help. Because the truth is, we can’t do it all alone. And we never have. Perhaps our most ancient almost rodent-like ancestors were lonesome creatures, only meeting up to reproduce before fighting alone for survival once more.

But we would have never made it this far if at some point down the line we hadn’t grouped together and achieved things together. That is one of our greatest strengths.

This includes asking for help, accepting help, and, of course, giving it. Our ability to cooperate like this, often without getting anything in return (not immediately anyway) or no more than thanks (which should be enough), is remarkable and we would still sit in trees without it.

So, why is it so difficult to ask for help or accept it?

I am wondering this today because I have received an offer for help which I really should not decline. A colleague who lives not far from me offered me her home with a spare room and desk as a workplace whilst my Internet is out.

My Internet is unlikely to be repaired today and it may take until at least tomorrow night, hopefully not longer. Refusing this offer would be stupid. I might only need to take it up tomorrow as I am already at work as I post this, using the public Internet available here.

I can’t rightly complain about my inability to do my freelance work without an Internet connection (unless I go to a local café) and refuse a friendly and totally selfless offer at someone else’s place where I have a quiet place and no extra cost.

I have been raised to be fiercely independent. That was my mother’s doing, who had to be independent long before she should have needed to be. It was one of the best gifts she has bestowed on me.

At the same time, she has always provided me with the support that I needed even when unwanted. To this day she does this. I don’t need it anymore. Not truly. But it has allowed me some comforts that I would otherwise simply have gone without. And I would not have been any worse off than I am now. I don’t miss what I don’t need.

Accepting help or support from other sources doesn’t come naturally to me. This is strange because I simultaneously wish for us to be more supportive of each other. I want that from my friends and anyone else I care about. I give it freely. No questions asked. I don’t expect anything in return and almost desperately hope everyone could be like this.

We are better, individually and as a whole, when we cooperate. When we support each other, help each other, and do not just seek to take from others.

Asking for help or accepting it seems oddly more difficult than providing it. To me anyway. It feels like an infraction of my independence. I can do it all alone. Except that I can’t. No one can. And that is okay.

But relying on others makes us vulnerable and, boy, do we have problems with that…

When you discover what you need

Pay attention.

I’ve been a little overworked last week and contrary to my plans totally didn’t manage to focus on writing another blog. I’m not lacking topics I want to write about, not even time is the issue. I have simply been too tired and therefore unable to concentrate on writing coherently. I am still tired, but work will ease up somewhat this week, and can put more energy into this as well.

So, I had this idea the other night as I was sleepless tossing and turning despite being horribly tired. It occurred to me in the middle of the night. I took out my phone, wrote these first few words, and managed to go back to sleep.

My idea was that it is important to discover what it is we need. On so many levels. And when we do, we must pay attention. My frustration when I had this thought was the many hours I had been putting in and the late shifts.

I considered the alternative, a 9 to 5 office job. Been there, done that. Not what I need.

More so, however, it was the fact that last week I had five shifts, which meant having to leave the house on five days, cycling to work, being among hundreds and hundreds of people, having to engage with dozens of them, and being completely drained every night.

That was the main frustration. As much as I like my job, and the social aspect is part of it, I have a limit. I am still an introvert. I cannot be out among so many people for so many days in one week. I need a break. No wonder I feel completely depleted and unable to even write.

I know what I need in that regard. I know my limits. That is the reason I only work part-time in this job, 25 hours a week. Last week it was easily 45 hours. Mind you, that is an exception – thankfully. But it was a stark reminder of why I work part-time.

The next few weeks shouldn’t be this extreme and I sure as hell don’t plan to repeat this experience. Covering someone else’s vacation or illness is a different story, but that wouldn’t just fall on my shoulders.

I’m perfectly content to be at home multiple days in a row, working from home and sometimes not even leaving the house if I don’t need anything. I don’t often do that in summer, mind you, as I love to enjoy the weather and just be outside. But in winter I may well hole up inside for days at a time.

I discovered what I needed in a job and in my work week long ago and sometimes I fail to adhere to it. Whilst I don’t make my own schedule, I can give preferences, which I do, and that works well enough, but I also tend to help out when needs must – more so than others. So, I end up with plenty of overtime.

By the way, figuring out what you need from your job or work is incredibly important to achieving a healthy work-life balance. But beyond that, we do have many other needs that we have to consider or discover and we always need to pay attention and not push those needs away in favor of work, people-pleasing, or for any other reason.

Yes, I may be a bit preachy here and I don’t want to go further into this at this point. I was mainly concerned with my job these past few days and remembering why I don’t work 9 to 5.

This may change in the future. And if or when it does, I will have to adapt.

A busy week

Last week I had no freelance work to do at all. I had a few shifts at my job, but a lot of time to myself besides that.

I sometimes struggle to make the most of my time. And I am not talking about being productive all the time. I see no sense in that and it would make my life miserable if I were to measure it in terms of productivity.

But when I find myself idle, not feeling like reading, mindlessly browsing through YouTube and getting the same five videos recommended over and over again, not watching anything in particular on TV, and just going through the motions, I do wonder how to better use my time.

I have tried to keep a schedule and appoint time slots for the things I want to do. Thus far, it hasn’t stuck. I might have to try to use an actual paper calendar, though that didn’t stick in the past either. But I really don’t want to keep checking my phone for what I had planned to do next. If anything, I want to reduce my screen time.

Whilst the schedule-keeping is not really my cup of tea, it did give me a better feeling of how much time I have every day and that I am able to use it better than just idling about and doing things when I feel like doing them.

For the longest time as a freelancer, I have kept a rough schedule, at least, and that has never faltered. Not when I have a shift in the afternoon, not during the long months of lockdown, not on my days off (unless I have a proper day off from everything).

Now, as I am also giving this blog more focus, I have to make time for it.

Today, I have written an article for my client. Now I’m doing this. In about an hour, I will head out to work, returning only after midnight.

This will be my schedule until Thursday. On Friday I will take a day off from everything. On Saturday I will at least return to this blog. On Sunday I will have a very long day at work.

In other words, I do have a busy week ahead, which I prefer to too much time to myself. Or rather, idle time.

Don’t get me wrong, I am an introvert, I need me-time. Enough to balance the time I spend at my job. And then some if possible.

But I also like to have something to do during that time. If that is freelance work, great. I need to make a living and have some savings available. If I get to use that time to fall into a book, awesome. And now that I work much more on this blog, I can always sit down and do that.

Yet sometimes I don’t want to do any of these things. I might grab my phone for the umpteenth time and put it away again with a sigh as there is nothing new to discover. Sitting and not doing anything is not something that comes to me easily.

Sometimes, when I truly need it. Like those times when I sit in the window, enjoying some peace and quiet time. But when I have had my fill, I need more than that.

So, I keep busy. Not always the kind of busy I would prefer if I were financially stable or (eventually) independent. But mostly a good kind of busy.

There is the stressful kind as well, where you always rush to keep up with a schedule set by someone else. I choose the busyness on my own terms. Not on someone else’s. That’s a huge difference and something we should all strive for. It is an important step towards that work/life balance that is so often talked about.

Why we need to invest in ourselves

You would think this requires no explanation. Because, of course, we must invest in ourselves. We must recognize our value and act accordingly.


You may nod in agreement. You may shake your head in befuddlement. You may smile knowingly because if it were that easy it wouldn’t need repeating.

Over and over again.

Because we forget.

And if anyone is really good at not recognizing what we’re worth it’s us. We believe others over what we know of ourselves. Alas, knowing ourselves, means also knowing everything that is wrong with us, which is a lot. So, naturally, we believe every bad thing someone else tells us about ourselves, and we also believe we deserve to be treated the way they treat us.

It’s the worst of vicious circles.

So, the first thing to do is this:

Do not listen to what anyone else has to say about you – unless they offer constructive criticism in an actually helpful way.

We must remember that we cannot control what others say, what they do, how they treat us, or how they feel.

We can control what we do, in particular how we respond, how we treat others, what we say to them, and how we say it. And whilst we also cannot control how we feel, we can control how to handle our feelings.

Getting to that point takes time, though. And time is an investment. We have to recognize that sometimes our first response may not make things better for anyone. And then we need to figure out how to change our ways.

Change takes time, too. In fact, giving ourselves time is one of the best investments we can make. We are often not very patient with ourselves, especially when we are reminded of something we already know. We call ourselves a fool, beat ourselves up, and forget to be kind to ourselves.

Recognizing that being kind, giving ourselves time, and reminding ourselves of the things we already know is an investment in our mental and emotional health.

Sometimes a glass of water is the investment we need. Sometimes it is a walk, a day off, a spa day, purchasing that pair of shoes you’ve been holding out on for weeks now.

We need to figure out what works for us to keep us going. That, too, is an investment.

It is a daily task. It’s not always a pleasant one either. In fact, self-care is not just a spa day, although that does give us a moment of joy. As does the purchase of an item we’ve been having our eye on for some time.

Actual self-care is continued investment into everything that makes us whole. It is the shower we take in the morning, the stretching to keep our bodies nimble, the glass of water even though we are not thirsty. It is the budget we make to manage our finances or the breakdown of all our debts and how we plan to tackle them. It is meal-planning and making a proper schedule for our time off, and reading instead of doom-scrolling Insta.

It is the thing that makes us resilient to adverse situations and that which gives us the ability to tackle just about anything that may come our way. Taking truly care of ourselves and making this daily investment means building a foundation on which we can create the versions of ourselves we want to be and the life that we feel at home in and don’t just want to escape from.

And to tie back to the beginning, true self-care also enables us to silence that nagging voice that continues to doubt ourselves, to heed the opinions of others no more than they deserve, and to learn how to manage our own (often too emotional) responses.

There are other ways in which we can and must invest in ourselves, but we can talk about that another time.

Constant distraction

When you have little to nothing to do, it is fascinating to observe yourself seeking constant distraction.

So, I had the last two days off. On Monday, I was tired and suffering from a sleep deficit. I didn’t feel like doing much of anything and only did the bare minimum.

Yesterday, I felt much better, having rested enough, and went about my day, running errands, going for a ride, doing laundry, and whatever else one does. I didn’t work. And I didn’t really write either.

But I noticed how every distraction seemed to be welcome. The TV was on and off, I read articles about random stuff, watched the news, scrolled through social media, watched a bunch of YouTube videos, and overall felt really quite restless.

I didn’t stick with anything for very long and was somewhat annoyed with myself. None of it ultimately mattered in any way. I didn’t learn anything very useful, though I didn’t feel like my day was wasted entirely as I did do some things that needed doing and I went on an enjoyable ride.

My mind feels restless still. I don’t seem to be able to concentrate and whilst I feel like I want to just read or something to focus my mind better, my thoughts keep straying.

At least, I switched my phone off. And I have to go to work today, even though I don’t really feel like it right now. It’ll be fine once I get there because it always is, but for now, I keep feeling restless and somewhat useless.

I decided to sit down and write about it just so I have something to focus me for a little while. The thing is also that my mind feels cluttered, and I know I need a break from this constant input I’m subjecting myself to. Watching a million videos on YouTube isn’t going to help. Just scrolling through all the recommended videos is too much, really.

What I need to do is close my eyes for a moment, let this clutter go from my mind, and perhaps read a chapter of the book I’m currently reading.

I mean, what do you do when you can concentrate, and your mind seeks distraction at every turn? Stop yourself and stare at a wall? Do you force yourself to do something specific or nothing at all?

Right now, quiet should help. Because everything else is making it worse. And I really don’t need this constant distraction. I need focus and clarity.

Not every day is a good day

Live anyway.

That’s today’s motto, I suppose.

I’m tired. I probably have a sleep deficit from my long shifts this weekend and I woke straight out of a vivid dream that left me irritated.

I went for a brief walk to deposit of some things and felt somewhat better after. The sun is out again, spring is becoming more and more visible. It really should be quite an enjoyable day, especially since I have off.

But this tiredness is a drag and makes this day feel like a wasted opportunity. An opportunity to do what, though?

Am I missing out on anything right now? Could I be more productive? Is there anything I really should be doing today?

I could easily answer all these questions with a ‘yes’, but then what? Is there truly anything I am missing out on? Do I want to be doing anything other than what I am doing this instant?

No. Not really. I am writing right now. I might be tired, and my eyes feel like they are in dire need of rest, but I can still do this, and it is better than the alternative, which really would be doing nothing at all.

As for productivity, that’s another can of worms right there. We’re not born to be productive. And the meaning of life is not found in increased productivity. None of us should be measured by how productive we are.

That said, productivity can be a means to an end, but it should be healthy and employed in such a way that it doesn’t make us feel as if we are always just hustling or trying to catch up in some way. I have more thoughts on the matter, which I still have to sort through before writing about them further.

Not every day is a good day. But this too shall pass.

Thankfully, we inevitably move forward in time. That is the nature of how we perceive this universe and at the end of today, a new tomorrow awaits. Maybe tomorrow won’t be a particularly good day either. Not every day will shine or be spectacular. It will be different, though.

If you are worried about today, whether you have wasted your time, simply caught an opportunity to rest, or if you have missed out on something, ask yourself whether this will still matter next week. Do you really think that in ten days’ time you will look back on today and wonder what the lull was about or tell yourself that you could have done better? Do you still remember last week’s bad day(s)? Does it still matter?

We live through the bad days one at a time. Just as we do with the good days.

And by the way, saying that it could be worse (which is usually true but utterly useless), won’t make anything better either. Whatever any given day might feel like – good, bad, wasted, full of opportunities – we still have to live each day as it comes. We make the best of it and move on to the next.

Sitting in the window

I have a windowsill that is wide enough for me to sit on. When I don’t use it as a seat, I plant lives here and a few lights that I use when it gets dark.

It’s not the comfiest place to sit, especially since it isn’t super wide. But I like it as I don’t have a balcony and I get to watch out. I can see the sunset in the evenings, watch the traffic or people walking by, or I work on my laptop enjoying the natural light.

I usually sit here every day at least at some point and I’m doing so right now. Watching people walk their dogs is a much better distraction than whatever is on TV.

It is also a good place for some thinking. When you have nothing much else to do and watch the world pass by your window, you have room to contemplate, commiserate or plan.

If I don’t have my laptop on my lap, it is actually also an excellent spot to get away from work for a bit. Even on rainy days. Or perhaps, especially on rainy days.

I didn’t write yesterday. For some reason, I thought I might have scheduled a post on Friday, but I hadn’t and only realized today that I ended up skipping on posting yesterday.

There are plenty of things I want to write about, so it’s not a lack of topics that kept me from writing. It was simply a false assumption and ultimately I wasn’t worried about it.

Today, I thought I should write again, though I also realized I didn’t want to get into anything too deep. I started writing about something else but deleted the paragraph almost immediately because it would have involved more thinking than I felt up to on a Sunday morning.

I worked late last night, and I am off to work again soon. I will enjoy the sunny weather on the way to work. And writing another blog just doesn’t seem that important right now. I want to enjoy the sun, the fresh air and mentally prepare for another shift.

It is important to me to keep up with this blog and not let things slide again, but there are times when feeling the sun on your skin and not overthinking anything is more important. This, too, is self-care.

I will be back here tomorrow and find another topic to write about.

For now, I will sit here in quiet for a few more minutes and later jump on my bicycle and have a lovely ride to work with not a care in the world.

Facing reality

To face anything head-on is a challenge. Whether it is that tough talk with a friend, loved one, or even a colleague. Or whether it is asking for something from just about anyone. Or facing a truth we would much rather avoid.

Most of us are pretty good at postponing such things. We want to avoid confrontations, with others and with ourselves.

Confrontations are unpleasant. It could be something as simple as looking at your stovetop and facing the fact that it is overdue for a cleaning. For a few days, we look at it and think to ourselves that it’s still usable and we’ll do the cleaning as soon as we have a spare moment. It doesn’t feel urgent, and as long as the stovetop can be used without leaving us feeling disgusted, the issue isn’t really there.

Until the day we shudder looking at it and using it one more time before cleaning it becomes unacceptable.

A silly example, perhaps, but representative of so many other things we put off because they don’t sufficiently disgust us or have become unsustainable or unacceptable.

What about that flaky friend who is always suggesting that we do something but never committing to anything specific? They only check in with us when it suits them, but as soon as we check to see if they are available, they make excuses or even accuse us of monopolizing their time.

Facing the reality that this person may not actually be our friend or at least, not a very good friend, is difficult, especially when we are of the forgiving kind and want to believe that we wouldn’t choose such people to befriend, to begin with.

Not only do we have to face the fact that we may lose someone we somehow care about despite their unreliable behavior, but also that we didn’t make a good choice in befriending them at all.

Or what about asking for that raise that is not only overdue but that you definitely deserve and that was even agreed upon, but nothing has happened since then? Here the battle is one we fight against ourselves because we may not wish to appear demanding or simply find it unpleasant to address the issue of a pay rise. It seems ridiculous because we are only asking for something we are due.

Another example is our reluctance to face any sort of debt we might have. It seems to speak to financial irresponsibility or bad money management skills. Something none of us would be happy to admit to.

Any debt we accrue is always our fault, right? We signed up for that credit card and kept using it. Do you look at your credit card bills when they arrive? Do you pay the minimum rate to pay off your debt or do you have a better plan? Does it make you feel guilty to use the card again despite the debt you have already accrued?

Whatever it is that we are trying to avoid (and often it is probably multiple things at once), sooner or later we must face reality. We must face that unreliable friend and potentially walk away from them. We must face our debt and tackle it actively. We must ask for that raise because we deserve it. Or we simply must bloody well clean up that stupid stovetop to exert some sort of control over this chaotic life we juggle every single day.

It may very well be a daily struggle to keep doing just that. But the truth is, not facing the reality of bad friends, debt, dirty stovetops, or whatever else we are avoiding has consequences that are simply unacceptable. Because debt will continue to grow, dirt could eventually make us sick and bad friends are bad for our mental and emotional well-being.

Confronting those realities one at a time will never be a pleasant experience, but ignoring any of them will make things infinitely worse in the long run.

Staying focussed

Distractions are everywhere. And our monkey brains are only too happy to follow each and every one of them.

Staying focused can be difficult. It requires us to be mindful. We must exert as much control as we can upon our immediate environment to avoid distractions.

I just switched on the ‘Focus’ function in Word. I’ve never done this before. I have noticed the little button at the bottom of the document, but I’ve never clicked on it. But since I literally just started writing this blog, I decided to see what happens when I do.

It enlarged the page I am working on to cover the screen entirely with only black margins on each side. I still get a little ‘x’ to exit out of this view in the top right-hand corner, but that’s about it.

This option eliminates at least visual distractions from my workspace on my laptop. I don’t see the navigation menu at the bottom, which takes me to my email or the open browser.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Perhaps. Until my monkey brain is fed up with staring at the page (in such cases that words don’t come easily or at all). Then I would probably minimize the document and seek distractions online. They are, after all, far more entertaining than an empty page.

But as I am writing this, I find this feature to be quite useful. Just now I found myself glancing at the corner where the time is normally visible. Why? Because the time is important right now? Or because I want to know how much time I have spent writing? Does it matter?

Earlier, I’ve turned off the Wi-Fi on my phone and put it away. Another distraction put aside. I have no need to check messages or social media right now, so I am making the effort of keeping my phone – this massive source of distraction – far away. It helps.

Depending on the writing I’m doing, I’d be better off switching off my Wi-Fi on my laptop as well. If I then wanted to check the news or go on a random research bout, I’d have to switch it back on again to connect to the Internet. Whilst not a difficult step to take, it might make me pause just for a moment as to why I feel the need to do this now and whether it is such a good idea.

If you leave your connection on, emails are certain to pop up sooner or later and it does require a bit more of a mental effort to withstand the temptation to move over to your browser. That is what I am doing right now, and it feels very conscious. As in, my connection is active and because I am writing about this topic, the idea of switching over using the combination of just two keys on my keyboard looms massively in my mind.

It would be so easy, but I am not going to fall for this trap. Because I am writing right now on the topic of staying focussed.

Of course, the Internet isn’t the only distraction I am referring to. Considering the goals I have, there is a host of other distractions I could succumb to. And inevitably will at some point.

My job is a distraction from my goal of writing. My sofa is a distraction from my goal of working out more. The TV is a distraction from reading. Shopping for my ideal travel backpack is a distraction from saving money.

Some distractions we can eliminate. Others we have to actively evade. I’m not going to throw my TV out, but I can leave it switched off. I will keep looking for that ideal travel backpack, but I am not going to hit purchase on an impulse buy anytime soon. I will set aside time for writing any opportunity I get. And I will not lounge on the sofa until I have done my workout.

Staying focussed is chiefly a mission of being as mindful as possible. It’s not a battle we will always win. I know my vices. I can work around them most of the time, but I also don’t feel the need to try and eliminate them entirely. As long as they don’t keep me from doing what I want to do.

And there are ways we can make it easier on ourselves. By using the ‘Focus’ function, leaving the phone out of reach and switching things off when we don’t need them.

When I actively work on my focus, I also become very conscious of my thoughts straying here and there, seeking distractions, or wondering about the time or my messages or whatever. It’s a strange sensation to become aware of, especially since I don’t give in.

Perhaps this is part of the dopamine detox everyone talks about?