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Longevity and Woody Allen

The notion that we are all, eventually, going to die cannot linger or avoid our thoughts for lengthy periods. By this I mean that, while some days pass by without a single thought about our own mortality, others are filled with the contemplation of the unavoidable. Unavoidable? Why?…While medicine and science in general are slowly growing into the supporters of the highly alluring concept of immortality, as literature and art once did, the fact that I and the people I love are going to die one day is still a fact.

Generations from now, when a lifespan will reach far more than twice the length of an average existence frame 200 years ago, hence, far more than the average life expectancy now, will the same questions about mortality linger on? Or will there be a different set of mind when handling the concept of death?

If I think about immortality, I cannot avoid remembering what Woody Allen once said: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”

Creating something worth preserving by the people that follow, either on an artistic level, or a political one, or a social one seemed to be the way people were coping with the idea of not living anymore. It gave them the illusion that even if they ceased to exist, at least they could let a part of them “live” among others, in the form of their work. But then Allan Konigsberg, or Woody Allen as we all know him, comes along and says the obvious.

The beauty of the genius that is Woody Allen is that he says “obvious” things that go through our heads in our moments of philosophical introspection in such delightful and thought inducing ways. He makes us think differently, he makes us see ourselves and the world around us in clarifying, sad and beautiful ways, for brief moments, in front of a big screen, in a dark room, where you go from dark to light in six seconds.

Coming back to extending a lifespan, in the past year I have read about three individuals that stirred something in me. There is a 93 year old yoga teacher in the USA. There is  a 75 year old body builder lady in the USA. And, there is an 101 year old marathon runner in the UK. These people truly defy the limits of an aging body, and they inspire through their attitude. They tell us that challenging ourselves has no age. And that before we complain about dying we first have to make sure we are getting the most possible out of living.

We are not products that expire at a date imprinted in our DNA, we are humans. We are these complex wonderful creatures that are capable of so much love, and compassion, and creativity. It saddens me enormously to know and see, every single day, that we are also capable of so much hate and violence.

Sometimes it is rather challenging to comprehend the fact that there are over 7 billion individualities on this planet. Over 7 billion humans contemplating death in their own way and living their life in their own style. I find it utterly fascinating that the inhabitants of this planet alone can offer so much creative force. Yet, I find it quite devastating some days, that the inhabitants of this planet alone are capable of so much destruction.

At the end of the day, we contemplate life, we contemplate immortality, maybe we see a Woody Allen movie. At the end of the day, we go to sleep, we dream. At the end of the day maybe we are proud of our achievements, maybe we are grieved beyond belief. At the end of the day, maybe we are as healthy as can be, or maybe we are battling a terminal disease. We experience the end of yet another day with all our complaints, or filled with happiness. With all that, at the end of the day, no matter where we are, we are still incredibly lucky, because, at the end of the day, we are still alive.

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Given the opportunity, people will complain

It took years of experience with the people around me to realize that I encourage certain behavior patterns in my family and friends, and that these patterns by no means aid them in solving their issues. When it comes to personal problems, that are deeply engraved into one’s logic and affect his/her life on a daily basis, I think that a psychologist is more likely to help someone, than friends who listen to the same complaints for years and can only do so much.

Actually, what do you do when people come to you with the same complains for years and you care about those people? For me, sticking to calm listening and giving the most sensible, logical advice I can give was the strategy so far. But I found out that, the people who come to me, don’t really want the advice, they just like to unload their grief and their frustrations, they just want to complain. This gives them a short-term relief, but since they do not tackle the issues at a deeper level, the same-core problems arise over and over. Thus years pass by, and people are stuck in routines they claim they hate, and in automatic complaints.

Complaining might work for brands on bettering themselves (e.g. real-time feedback about what happens in restaurants or stores helps the immediate improvement of the problems, and builds positive brand image as Mindshare tells us). And, as it seems, consumers like to complain more and more (i.e. emarketer lets us know), and this affects their purchasing behavior:

Nevertheless, customer complaints bring more information and insights for the companies, which tweak the brands, and this helps the brands again. So, complaints in the business world can end up in quick fixes, with positive impact for companies on the long term. But what about complaints about one’s personal life?

Of course talking about things that bother, or annoy, or upset you, being open, communicating with the persons you care about and that care about you has huge benefits compared to ignoring problems and getting on with untold frustrations. But, one valid point is that it has to have reciprocity, otherwise, eventually, the discussions will be frustrating for at least one of the parties involved. Another valid point is that the purpose of communicating your problems is to get help in solving them, but this requires openness and will to solve the problems, from the one who has them. When the purpose of the complaint is just to complain, and the one who listens is not aware of this for a while, energy is being wasted and frustrations from the listener are pending.

No matter who comes to you (e.g. mother, sister, father, brother, son, daughter, best friend, lover) and repeatedly and annoyingly engages in complaining for the sake of complaining, and just takes up a lot of your time and energy, you have got to take a stand. Their problems are not your problems (unless you caused the problem, or are directly involved in the issues).

Why would you put so much of your energy that can be employed for other of your many things that need to be done, to listen to the same complaints of somebody who just complains to complain? If they really wanted to change something in their lives, instead of complaining for years about the same things, they would have done something about the situation(s).

Naturally, there are cases and cases and it always depends on the degree of problem hardship. We cannot say that somebody battling a challenging disease for years and complains about the pain, is in the same pot with somebody who has an abusive boyfriend whom she just doesn’t dare to break up with, even after years of unhappiness (or claimed unhappiness, because my definition of unhappiness does not necessarily coincide with yours, as my friend Diana would say). I encourage you to encourage the latter individuals either to stop complaining and do something, or seek professional help.

There is no shame in admitting you need help. However, somehow, people think that status, image, how they are seen in public, maintaining appearances, are all more important than how happy they are with their private lives. And this is one of the saddest sides of human kind.

So, don’t be afraid to seek help and make people seek help, as long as you don’t want just a quick-personal-problem-fix that lasts only for a little while.

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Dealing with Rejection

Oh Yes! Exactly like the title says. The word rejection, verb to reject, comes from the Latin verb reicere, which means to throw back. Interesting how one word can encapsulate such a powerful range of emotions. The fact is, you are truly thrown back by a rejection: you have to readjust your strategy, you have to work more on a proposal, you have to look for another job, you have to mend your broken heart and find love somewhere else, you have to keep hoping that they’ll find another donor, you have to do a lot. Thus the rejection devours your time planned in other ways before the act of rejection.

Rejection requires recovery energy, and recovery time. Rejection is not easy to deal with. What follows has to be read taking medicine-related situations off the table.

It always depends on who engages in the rejection process. If you reject, then a certain sense of empowering seeps in, you had the veto, you had the choice. Even though this might mean you still have to look for other opportunities, for other employees or employers, you still have to put in extra energy in the matter, and it will still take up your otherwise allocated time. However, it feels much better than being rejected.

When you are reject, the danger of questioning who you are and what you’re good at is omnipresent. It’s one thing to view your being rejected by somebody with an objective eye, figuring out the key learning points from the experience, bathing in the constructive criticism and emerging as an improved being at the surface of this social realm. But, it’s of course another thing to think you are smaller than you thought, less competent, less able, less…One of the saddest occurrences in a rejection situation is when the rejected starts doubting if s/he is good at what s/he thought s/he was best at before…

The survival kit in dealing with rejection, when you are the rejected one, includes, even though far from easy to do, the following:

First step, breath. Think about the fact that this is not a life and death situation, and that you can always find something pleasant that you can think about or do to create an emotional buffer for the event (e.g. go hug your loved one, go for a run, think about your favorite joke, go on this awesome site, watch a Seinfeld episode, just do something that you love doing!)

Second step, look. Try to see the situation objectively and figure what those who rejected you needed, what you needed, what both parties offered, if it was a fair deal, and if you did things as well and as true to yourself as you could.

Third step, express. Make sure you verbalize your gratitude for the opportunity, in professional instances, even though you were rejected. Rejection does not equal impoliteness, or revenge, and it is in your best interest to leave people with a nice impression about the way you handled things. And in case of being rejected either in your professional or personal life, express your gratitude for what you have accomplished, and what you have learned, but this time to yourself.

Fourth step, move on. Dynamics is a must when it comes to sticky situations, sticking to back steps that is. You need to see what you can do next. There is always the chance to make a new choice. And if you get rejected again, you just have to go back to the first step.

It does sound simple. It is very hard to do. Nevertheless, it isn’t impossible. Make sure that you are kind to yourself immediately after a rejection. If there’s one person who can always bring you down, that’s definitely your own self.

Breath. Look. Express. Move. Combine your senses and your knowledge into a rejection-coping recipe. Good luck!

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“To be or not to be”…somewhere

The sky is calm, the sky is angry, the sky is sunny, the sky is grey, it can be filled with birds and it can be filled with smog, but it would have nothing to say if somebody didn’t observe it. It is the same with us humans, the ones underneath the sky…or above it if you happen to be an astronaut on a mission. But let’s stick to the “tellurically”-bound.

It seems to me that our location and letting people know about it becomes increasingly important. Stretching the potential of the concept of location and linking it to a famous Danish character “To be or not to be” rapidly becomes “To be or not to be somewhere”, with the addition: “and to tell somebody about it”. As it appears, just “being” doesn’t cut it anymore, you have to know where you’re “being”, but more importantly, you have to tell it to somebody else.

A study from June 2011 that connects social media to shopping (courtesy of eMarketer) , shows that the sheer communication of people’s location is reason enough to access social media, at least for 22% of the participants.

Thinking beyond physical location, where we are is of utmost importance to our existence, from logistic issues to self-esteem. The location in our mind, to be exact is the one I’m referring to. For instance if you are set on a goal, then knowing where you are, progress-wise, from “zero” to “goal met” can help you or bring you down. The multiple ramifications of our perception of mental location within a scenario that is in motion, or that we just create in our mind are uncanny, to say the least. What I mean by this is, simply put, that relating ourselves to a scale between “origin” and “end point” of something has huge effects on our behavior. Thus location is quite important.

Individuals use social media to state where they are physically (e.g. at my new home, on a borrowed laptop) and mentally (e.g. quite stressed about meeting a deadline since my laptop is dead and my data is temporarily unusable due to a nasty, delicious cup of spilt coffee). In my head this is related to the observation of the sky this post started with. Our existence is defined by the existence of other individuals who can observe us. Technology has enabled us to observed each other appealing to a myriad of ways, and social media is one of them. Therefore, we tell where we are because we are, and we tell it to others because we are able “to be” because “they are” as well…or something like that.

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Rising Stress Levels

I would like to stress something today. What I want to expose and then emphasize on is related to our continuous need for self-actualization (you might be quite familiar with this peak of Muslow’s hierarchy of needs). Self-actualization is related to achieving our full potential, being aware of that achievement and basking in the glory of what we have finally become.

BUT, and this is a big one, when are we aware that we achieved our full potential? And isn’t our constant stubbornness to aim for perfection interfering with  realizing when and if we’ve achieved our own full potential? Then, it follows, in light of the obsession with perfectionism that humans have been known to have, are we ever able to achieve our full potential? And isn’t achieving our full potential the ultimate and unreachable goal, when it comes to the fact that we are always blessed and challenged with neverending change and constant evolution? As we change every second, our ideas change, our perception of what self-achievement is changes…For me, the truth, as I can perceive it right now, is that the top of the hierarchy of needs pyramid is a goal to be chased after, but never quite graspable; it is within our reach, yet unreachable, and it should stay that way.

If this life were only about achieving goals, and nothing else, well, let’s just say we would be a much much unhappier species than we already are. However, this life is about the process, the road, the journey, this whole life is a quest. Goals are the milestones, they cannot alone construct a path.

All this talk about self-actualization processes inevitably gets me to thinking about stress levels, which are inherent to processes that go towards those milestones we call goals. When we have a lot on our plate and not a big enough fork, we feel that it will all take too much, still that would be alright if we could do it in our own pace, and be done with the plate contents when we’re done with them. Nevertheless, there are these pesky little things called “deadlines”. They really make us want to have a bigger fork, maybe two big forks, a longer work day, a more efficient way of processing information, a smaller need for sleep, a continuous supply of serotonin shots to our bloodstream in just the right amount and and and and…

As one of my very wise close ones said: we are as productive as we are and as smart as we are and we just have to deal with things as we are.

Thus, to be able to deal with things as I am, I’m trying to find less time-consuming ways to tackle my rising stress levels. One way is putting on paper all these nice quotes I find in books and in TED talks and in news articles and placing them all throughout my room, then, when I want to de-stress, or at least avoid thinking about stress for a couple of seconds, I lift my eyes from the screen and I look at one or two quotes, I smile, then I look back at the screen.

There are two quotes that put me in a better place, mentally speaking, today. One made me think, the other made me think and laugh. They both helped me cope with stress better today, and I want to share them with you, as they have been shared with me by sociologist Sam Richards and by doctor Harvey Fineberg at TED.

The first one is by Fyodor Dostoevsky, who for me, will remain a master a depiction: “While nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer, nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

The second one is by Woody Allen, the perpetual witty mocker of American society:            “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”

Enjoy quotes. Enjoy the process. Keep stress levels at bay. Good luck.

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What is fascination and why are we fascinated by things and people? That is the first question on this blog deck.

According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, fascination is the power or quality of fascinating or something fascinating. And something  fascinating is supposed to be something extremely interesting or captivating. I have seen people be fascinated by many items, from sunsets, and flowers, to lyrics, to Native American artifacts, and to somebody else.

We seem to have different definitions for various things that can cast a certain fascination to each and every one of us, but more interestingly, for the effect that the fascination in itself has on us. The effect becomes us at one point, and thus we are redefined by the way we react to the object of our fascination. If we are captivated by sunsets, we might be romantics. If we loose ourselves in botanical beauty, we might be nature lovers. If we bury ourselves in books of poetry and write rhymes with passion, we might be poets in our hearts. And if we get completely enraptured with the things that a certain someone does, and with that someone’s eyes, and if all which that person is seems to have an uncanny charm, and draws us in, body and mind, then we might be completely in love.

Words help us define, they help us communicate, they help us end wars, they help us teach babies, they help us love, they enable us to pass on knowledge to generations to come, they aid in the construction of cultures, they allow us to express our feelings, they help us tell our own story and the story of the universe. David Christian actually did the latter at TED.

Words are my fascination.

Posted in TED, Writing | 3 Comments