Varsity day

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Oxford, England
May 2016 

Alan had earned the Oxford Blues (athlete) title and was about to compete in the annual Varsity between Oxford University and Cambridge University.

We had a little fight the night before the game. Alan was upset since some of his friends wouldn’t be able to make it. I was busy writing a paper, hence, there was a fair chance I might be absent as well. My great emperor has never hidden his desire for much love and passionate attention.

I stayed up all night working on my paper then boarded the 7am train to Oxford from West Drayton station, London. I proudly wore a blue sweater, of course, I’m team Oxford.

It was rather a long walk from Oxford train station to Iffley stadium. I didn’t mind, since every walk around Oxford, through the colleges that look like gothic castles, is a dream of a lifetime. There I decided I would one day return to Oxford or Cambridge to study. After all, Alan can’t keep all the fun and glory to himself!

However, the was a modest issue, Iffley is a big sports compound and I had no idea where to look for Alan. He was probably preparing for the match and did not pick up his phone. I asked for him at the reception just to feel even more hopeless. Just when I sat down thinking what to do, Alan came.

He dressed in a white shirt and a pair of khaki pants, his tie was full of olive branches. Not until when I grabbed his shoulder did he realise I was there. We shared a good luck hug then Alan, as if he was one of the finest Olympians, looked straight and marched through the stadium entrance like a general entering a battlefield.

– Skye 

In the heart of life

dan-eldon-4Dan Eldon is my hero. He died at 22 while photographing the Somalia civil war, ironically in an attack originated by the United Nations. Dan is the person that satisfies my quest for the foundation of moral, he said: “Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man is due to ignorance, not intent. Children must be taught not to hate.”

I used to wonder why people, such as journalists, would put themselves in professions that may cost their lives. So I tried to work as a human rights journalist for a very short period of time. Then I understood – in the middle of extreme danger and inhumanity, I always found some heroic acts of people and tremendous compassion. The job of telling the stories then became natural. In such moments, I found my way to my both vulnerable and fearless heart; and I had never felt so alive.

– Skye

A place that scares me

An imperfect moment 

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I have a habit of screening through pictures, years of pictures, maybe once every week. I have always looked for the perfect moments in the past. For some reasons, I have an ideal version of the past – it is always perfect.

I was born a perfectionist.

I live for the beauty. I have even created some scenes that might just appear in fairy tales. In thousands of pictures, I always dressed up perfectly; the scene was always magnificent. Venice was private, despite millions of fellow travellers. Paris was filled with love, albeit our wicked fights. Even London was always sunny. Someone said I would make a great stage director.

I often ask myself – Is my mind too busy that the present moment never seems so beautiful, until a few years later when I sit down and look at the pictures?

In my present, nothing is ever enough. Some little success has taught me a lot – I felt nothing but emptiness standing on the top of a mountain that I had tried so hard to conquer for so many years. What I thought was “happiness” (perfection) has also taught me a lot – No flower was perfectly beautiful; no moment was perfectly perfect – until a few years later when I sit down and look at the pictures.

I always feel so jealous of the person that carries my face in the images – she always looks so happy and successful. She has everything that I truly desire, although the moments, in reality, were quite imperfect, according to my standards.

At one point I was so overwhelmed with life just going completely different from my plans and expectations, I just sat down…

I sat down and wrote an imperfect book of science (my Master thesis) that had a deadline attached to it.

Then I sat down again…

I sat down and allowed myself to enjoy a full Sunday.

Then I sat down again…

I sat down and texted people – “I am sorry. I think I overreacted!”

Then I sat down again…

I sat down and just listened to someone for hours then told him: “Your stuff is important. I am here for you!”

Then I sat down again…

I sat down and planned some celebrations.

I sat down and breathed!

Staying in the place that scares me the most – (beautiful) imperfection – has been the hardest thing to learn. And I am progressing. Thank God, I am making good use of the lessons!

– Skye

Meditation on Preparation

Louvre; Nike von Samothrake

One can never be prepared enough to be Alexander the Great, one can never be prepared enough to be the President. Similarly and realistically, you can never be prepared enough for the new, the bigger, the greater, and lots of times the unimaginable.

What is in the word ‘Preparation’?

Preparation is the art of building your stairs, gaining altitude (or flying for the first time, in case your preparation means a balloon). Preparation is to equip yourself firstly spiritually, secondly mentally and lastly technically.

Planning takes time, thinking takes time. The pursuit of happiness is meant to be a selfish design process that might take years, decades, solitude, blood and tears to produce a lot of false prototypes. However, the pressure and pain are truly worthwhile, for the sake of a majestic and elegant diamond you are meant to become.

It is true you can never be prepared enough to be. But once your preparation gets you to the place where you thought you desired, you should be prepared to execute bloodily with grace, like the Romans.

– Skye 

Entitlement

One of my most vivid childhood memories is locking myself in a room with books, a lot of books, especially the encyclopedias. I have been looking for every clue ever written on paper about the internal philosophical maze that has both amused and eaten me alive since I was conscious of my existence. Silence has always been my good friend, so as the waves of inner conflicts, which (I have eventually concluded) were carried over from previous lives.

My grandmother, out of worries, often tried to invade my locked room. One time, when I was probably six, I screamed at her: “I am entitled to not help you now. I am sorting myself out!” – I meant it.

20 years later, I woke up one morning, on a mountain in Mid-England, and realised a job interview was waiting for my confirmation. The problem was, I was on a meditation retreat and my great teacher would never grant me access to the real world. In short, the appointment had to wait. For a moment I felt guilty. It was the same guilt that haunted me whenever I wanted to leave a lover, or an unsatisfying job – The guilt of not being able to give people what they want from me.

I stepped out of my bed and made a statement (to the window), which I believed could only come out of a two-decade deep meditation: For as long as I have lived, I have been the destroyer, because I couldn’t fake it. From now on, may there be NOT a noble statement attached to anything I do, whoever I love. I am entitled to be happy with my own creations and share my best possible companionship, period.”

There I was liberated. I (finally) allowed myself to live without the miseries of other people, to listen or to not listen, to dance like a retard, to create ambitious and colourful plans, to not accept unhappiness and incompatibility in my life…

I am entitled to do things with a smile. I am entitled to live true to my heart.

I am entitled to not help anyone. I am also entitled to want to help anyone.

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– Skye

Business of imagination

Oxford, England

We strolled around town, museums and colleges looking like castles. Alan, in his navy suits, ran after some kids and indeed made one cry. I laughed mischievously while comforting their poor mothers. Everyone on the street stared at us and somewhat envied our carelessness.

There were days when Alan sat with the chief officers of some major financial institutions while I joined some diplomats and Frankenstein-scientists. However, saving the world was not our main concern back then; more often we found ourselves laughing at each other in French cafes, daydreaming on the grass, counting deers or making our way to the secret rose garden of Cecil Rhodes.

At night we went ghost hunting when Alan talked to me in Dutch. I just assumed he said he loves me. Under the winter moonlight, as we walked through the cobblestone streets, I asked Alan what was his profession back in the 16th century.

“An astronomer”

“You know what, I was Princess D’Annam!”

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– Skye

How much is enough?

There are two types of questions – Good questions and useless questions – “How much is enough?”, to me, is sort of both.

I have always known for granted that no one has the intellectually satisfying answer for another person (and in most cases for oneself). I have also acknowledged there is a high chance I will get lost, disappointed and shattered if I stubbornly grip on the question, yet I have naturally held on to it – “How much is enough?” After all, things that seem natural, they don’t tend to argue, they exist.

I have come to the conclusion that to look for an answer for any philosophical question is not a smart way to solve the riddle. In fact, such questions are standalone statements that best serve as reality checks for (ever-changing) realities.

“How much is enough?”, for instance, is just another question among the brilliant (and useless) questions, such as “Who am I?”, “Why me?”, “Why am I even here on earth?”, etc.

For existential questions of which there is no single answer, a good momentarily answer is an answer that will enable one to take meaningful actions. What is a meaningful action? A meaningful action is a significant action. A significant action is neither important nor urgent, it is pattern disruptive. Significant actions – for example, zooming in and out of realities – helps one to evolve into the next and better version of oneself, especially when one is trapped in the past, the future, or the routine of present.

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– Skye 

Enemy

“You have changed. You don’t even talk anymore. Why, Skye, why?”

The text reached me almost a year ago. Indeed, my life had changed. After all these years of rejections of all kinds, one day the UK government sent me an email said: “We believe in you and will invest in your future.”

I was showered by hugs, congratulations emails, texts, yet found myself unable to reply to any of those. I stood on a rooftop for a long time, about 10 hours. I cried. As hard to believe as it sounds, I didn’t know if I were happy, I had a panic attack. Everything seemed like an earthquake; the ground shifted. “Maybe I’m too happy!” – I convinced myself.

I had a man in my life at the time. The last time I saw him we sat opposite each other with our laptops. The thought of saying goodbye to him scared the hell out of me. I looked at him very closely that afternoon and didn’t say goodbye.

The following six months were the longest winter of my life. I found myself walking endlessly on the streets of London asking myself endless questions: “What’s next?” – “Why I’m not happy although I am finally being able to fly with own wings?” – “Why am I here on earth?”… At the end of each day, my brain resigned and I cried myself to sleep.

I then travelled, I flew to wonderful cities, went horse riding, brought myself to Skye island where I dreamt about for many years. I desired a moment of joy, yet found myself so disappointed and lost.

One day I heard a voice in my head: “Why do you treat me so terribly Skye? I have worked endlessly for your ambitions, I endured all the storms, I escorted you everywhere on earth, why do you still hate me so much? Why have you never thought, for once, that I’m enough?” – It was the poor me that talked to me. I suddenly realized I have been so hard on myself all the time, I have always dictated the human in me and punished her for every little mistake, I have never been compassionate with myself, I have never let myself go, and worst, I have never truly believed I deserve to be happy and successful. I suddenly realized my enemy.

Things got better quickly as I shifted from punishing myself for little mistakes to rewarding myself for little accomplishments. And honestly, I have never felt this light before; the feeling is almost like walking out of a hurricane, putting on a relaxed knit and stepping out for some air of nonchalance. I am happy things turned out this way.

I can now talk about this horrifying experience with a smile, but it takes courage to even talk about it. My family, my friends, everyone, even myself thought my life was so perfect; and it didn’t make any sense to be depressed. It took courage to let myself accept that I was depressed, then tried to find the way out and looked at things in holistic ways.

To anyone out there who is feeling unwell, although things seem to be alright, it’s okay to feel anything you want to feel. Be a little patience and selfish, give yourself a big hug because you deserve it! 

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– Skye

How to get Everything you want (16) – The Negotiation

Sometimes in life we cannot just rely on our ability to do math to get what we want, we (have to) ASK for what we want. To me it’s quite good news that someone out there can give me exactly what I want, if I ask for it.

However, the fact that we just need to ask for something is not as important as How we ask? So here it is:

How to get Everything you want (16) – The Negotiation

Let’s get started (this is my personal way of doing things, I’m glad if it helps or entertains people, please don’t like what I say if you don’t. Cheers):

1-Know what you want:

It is a dangerous thing entering a game without knowing what you want. In short, if “grey and emotional” is the situation, you will end up lost, beaten and miserable.

It might take a lot of time swimming in an ocean of information and opinions (especially these days) to even figure out what you/I want. Most of the time the situations are complex or people complicate the situations. There is a model of system thinking which I’ve been using lately to navigate in complex situations – the 5 Level Framework (5LF) – cheesy name, but kinda works:

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Let’s imagine we are in a football game – complex thing, 22 people running around and around.

System Level: The system that overrules the “what we want”. In this case the system is football rules, no matter how we play the game, we have to play by the rules.

Success Level: What do you want? How do you define success? In this case score more goals than the opponent (or winning 2-0 or 3-1).

Strategic Level: NOT the strategy, but the Strategic Guidelines that will be used to choose concrete actions to accomplish the mission. In this case different strategies for the match will be listed out. The coach will then prioritise a specific plan, based on the overall goal of the match and the knowledge about his own team and the rival.

Actions Level: The concrete actions that are chosen to move towards defined success. In this case 4-4-2 or 4-3-3  or 4-5-1… formations and/or other strategies.

Tools Level: The tools that support the planning and implementation of the plan. In this case players, balls, shoes, equipment, etc.

If one can successfully plan and execute the 5LF without requiring external resources, there is no negotiation that needs to be done. Case closed. However, if either Strategic Guidelines or Actions Level or Tools Level that needs extra leverage, we need to talk. The Success Level – “Know what you want”, or more importantly “Define what you want” – is the heart of the whole planning process.

2-Know what you opponents/allies want 

It is no less important for the lawyers to prepare the opposite case. Do your homework, awake your inner Sherlock Holmes, use your reasoning ability – the lingo is endless. I hope your opponent is easier to understand than a woman. My favourite is to do the 5LF of the opponents alongside with mine.

However, unless we are in a court with a very smart Judge, I don’t trust reasoning that much, maybe 20%. If you’ve ever been (or watched) a securities trader (they trade stocks and bonds) or observed a hospital, you would see that emotions and personal interests rule this world. I cannot tell how wonderful a ruthless CEO behaved when his child suffering cancer. Seriously, go down to the stock market or the hospital for a day, you won’t trust that reasoning test employers give you anymore. The point is, when you actually enter the room, listen to and watch your opponents/partners/allies, think about his substances: position – (PERSONAL) interests – (PERSONAL) needs – emotions – values – perceptions.

As Hemingway said – “Before you act, listen. Before you react, think”, don’t make assumptions, be aware of your own preconceptions and biases. You can always probe your opponents – Ask “What if…?”

3-Define the common ground of interest 

Now, this is the art of letting someone have it your way, or shall we say Diplomacy.

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(Please excuse my hand writing)

There is nothing to negotiate if there is not a common (ground of) interest. Therefore, in many cases, there should be pre-negotiations about the common ground of interest; so that parties will not waste time later on arguing about totally different interests and needs.

Let’s focus on interests, not positions – this philosophy is very effective for both bilateral and multilateral negotiations.

4-Negotiate nicely (but “inflexibly”)

Our best asset is Trust. With Trust life would be so much easier. If your partners/opponents/allies don’t believe in what you say and don’t believe that you will actually do what you promise – NO DEAL.

If they trust you, you have a level of control over the situation. Trust is the ideal situation that we want to build and earn. However, let not lose ourselves. Therefore, work to establish trust with your straight-dealing and honesty, without compromising on substances and without being naive about how far to trust the other side.

The difficult negotiator is charming and inflexible. She/he is NOT loose, rude and doesn’t invent confusion and/or stupid problems.

With my special thanks to Dr Karl-Henrik Robert, Founder – The Natural Step, and Dr Peter Collecott, Former British Ambassador to Brazil, for your coaching of system thinking and diplomacy.

This is Part 16 of my ‘How to get Everything you want’ series, previous parts can be found via links below:

How to get Everything you want (THEN WHAT?)

Part 1: Every (great) thing in life starts with a vision. Create your vision!

Part 2: Count what you have AND what you don’t yet have; be grateful for both!

Part 3: Take a walk

Part 4: Create your A—>B agenda. Stick to it.

Part 5: Do your homework. Research. Get to know-how (at least theoretically).

Part 6: Differentiate between pure fairy tales and ambitious (but doable) dreams.

Part 7: When you get stuck, unplug yourself from work for a while, go out and enjoy life. Set yourself time to come back to work.

Part 8: DO your best everyday (for yourself first), the rest will come.

Part 9: Select the people that you keep (closely) around yourself.

Part 10: Be patient while accumulating (please don’t be patient sitting there doing nothing).

Part 11: Be happy living frugally, then (one day) you can have it all and will still be happy, then (one day) you may lose everything and will still be happy.

Part 12: Test yourself to see if you have what it takes to get Everything you want.

Part 13: Be Remarkable, create things that are closest to perfection, pay attention to detail.

Part 14: Habits are powerful. Create some good ones.

Part 15: Go with the flow

– Skye