Success And Failure And Everything In Between

Over the last month or so I have failed continouously, a little bit every day. No doubt, I have done so every day of my life from my early attempts at legible speech and coherent motion as a small child to what could be considered a ‘normal’ day in 2014. This seems to be one of my inherent faults. I will continue to fail, every single day of my life. This means I will have to be careful not to write every day off as a failure, simply because I failed.

Ultimately, the flaw is in the semantics. I was simply taught it wrong (or I learned it wrong…): The conjunction that joins the words “success” and “failure” is not an “either, or”, it is an “and”. They coexist. They might even live in some sort of symbiotic dependence. Although this might seem like a petty detail, it is not. Don’t we all strive to be successful? Depending on our understanding of “success”, we have two very different goals. One, where “success” implies the absence of failure, is virtually impossible to attain and tends to be temporary. The meaning that I’d prefer still needs some defining. Maybe “successful” could mean that our successes are more frequent or meaningful than our failures. I’d like that very much. It would make a much better life goal.

Now, despite my trailing off into my beloved semantics, there are of course other flaws in my strive for success than just the meaning of words. When joined a new school to complete the last two years of my education before university, my dad used to mock the ‘school spirit’ that senior members of the ‘Sixth Form Management Team’ tried to inflict upon us, desinterested and distracted sixteen-year olds, during endless assemblies. My dad (who received a weekly Sixth Form newsletter) and I who had grown accustomed to the German school system (where the school and its employees seemed similarly desinterested as the students themselves, and such attempts would have been both unthinkable and reidiculous), where baffled by these attempts, however ineffective they might have been.

The reason why we, my dear reader, have strayed yet again to the land of anecdotes is this: What my dad enjoyed mocking most was the schools motto (there was also a mission statement of several pages and what I believe to have been the school’s internal equivalent of the ten commandments). And, yes, I will finally return to my actual topic of success and failure now.

“Every Student The Best They Can Be”

That was it. Pretentious and belitteling at the same time, but in the context of my school the intended meaning becomes clear quite quickly. It was a large school in a rural setting that taught students from age 12 to 19, some of which would go on to read mathematics at Cambridge and others who would become hair dressers or traffic wardens or stay-at-home mums (or dads). I don’t mean to judge any of these life choices, I’m just trying to illustrate my schools broad academic spectrum.

But when you are sitting in an assembly that is boring you to death and you have the time to ponder over the multiple meanings of this motto, you have the time to realise that this is similarly impossible as being “successful” in the conservative way is. I will never be the best version of myself and if I continuously tried to I would fail over and over again. There will always be more things I could to and things I could do better and all of that. But in the end, cursing the things I am not or did not do will make me neither more successful (in all the possible ways) nor happier.

I can warmly recommend doing a happiness project just for the sake of having these tiny realisations, as you put your ticks and crosses on your resolutions chart night after night and celebrate the successes and, depending on your mood at the time, either shrug off or contemplate your failures.

B x

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Reading And Sleeping And All That

Finally (FINALLY!) my internet works again. I shift from thinking “the regular internet-free time enforced upon me is an opportunity – no more distraction”, to being like “why, WHY do I have to live in a building where the internet regularly just stops functioning for days or weeks on end???!”. Probably, it has been both.

It stopped working last Saturday, in the morning. In the time from Saturday evening and Wednesday I have read four books. My usual average is a book a week (which I struggle to keep up with). So that is definitely a point for the “we should live without internet”, others supporting this view are the amount of time I wasted on Netflix (none), Facebook (none) or reading up on some obscure things that are of no importance or relevance to me (none).

There are, however, of course also some downsides to being offline. Making something as simple as a bank transfer suddenly becomes a considerable task (using the internet at the library, which is painfully slow, for something as sensitive as online banking always makes me a bit queasy, hackers and all that). Looking up the bus times is impossible (Maybe I should also add that I had already used up my monthly mobile internet allowance before Saturday… oops!), contacting someone ends up being a lot less casual (ugh, I hate talking on the phone!), and it does majorly inhibit the work I have to do for university. For example, I use Duolingo to help me learn my languages, and with it’s complex graphics and sound effects, it was impossible to use it over the library internet.

When it comes to entertainment and information, as well, I really only have books and the internet to rely upon: no TV, no newspaper, no nothing. And the gravest flaw when it comes to reading as entertainment and pastime, for me, is that I so easily fall asleep when doing it. And I don’t just sleep for, you know, 20 minutes or an hour: I wake up after four to six hours, completely disorientated with my contact lenses burning in my eyes. Not very nice.

In this particular case, additionally, the temporary absence of internet connection from my life meant that I was not able to blog (sorry, dear reader!). As an integrated part of our ever-reflecting society (I read Eat Pray Love at the tender age of thirteen), this stimulated my brain – was my life better/worse without me blogging every day? Well, it was certainly different. Not only because the reading and sleeping and all that, but while I did not miss blogging as such, I did notice some changes in my daily life. The days seemed to pass quicker. I was rushing from place to place, and fell into bed exhausted in the evening. And while I ticked off my resolutions chart every night, I did not think about happiness once. Not once. Although I’m meant to be in the midst of a happiness project. Scary.

But I will not dwell. The internet is back (for now) and I will be able to blog every day, reflect the hell out of my tiny insignificant life. Yay!

B x

Saturday DAY Fever

Blogging is all about sharing, right? I’ve shared some rather negative emotions over the last few days, so to make up for it I should also share that today I am having a genuinely great day. What’s the reason for that? I guess it’s an accumulation of different minuscule factors that add up and brighten the day.

  1. It’s Saturday. Saturdays are the bestest days. Of course if you spend the day working an 8-hour shift your opinion might differ, but for a lazy student like me, weekends are off and and Saturdays are amazing. Firstly, they are free from pressure: You’ll always have Sunday to catch up on stuff from uni (or blogging101), and even if you’re completely hung-over, it’s fine. Secondly, shops are open. Here in Germany all shops are closed on Sunday. All shops, all day. So Saturday is the perfect day to take the bus to the city centre (or better: cycle) and get that battery in your watch replaced or buy running shoes or do all those kind of things that you don’t have time for during the week. Perfect. Thirdly, does there have to be a thirdly? No, two’s enough. Next.
  2. I woke up in a good mood. This one is essential. My moods in the morning are completely random, but often it dictates the day I’m about to have. Of course, I can overcome a bad mood, but that is just so much effort, and it’s so much easier just waking up with the right mindset. Like today! Yay!
  3. Already, I have fulfilled some of my resolutions. They might be minor achievements, but they are achievements and not only do they give me the feeling of success, they also give me an extra happiness boost!
  4. I let myself be inspired. One of my resolutions is to watch a TED talk a day, because I get tired of them if I watch more than one at a time (too much idealism and enthusiasm can be tiring), but I love them and the feeling they give me immensely. This was today’s: Watch it yourself and be inspired!
  5. It’s neither raining nor dark. Maybe you guys have similar experience with the effect on weather on your personal mood, so you’ll understand that living in the north of Germany at the moment is a mayor downer: You almost never see the sun (or proper daylight, actually) and odds are that it is pissing down/hailing/snowing/about to do one of the above mentioned. So lucky day today. I’ll be able to leave the house without being assaulted by the season.

Oh, I came up with five whole reasons, not bad. Once I have finished writing this post, tagged it and all that, I’ll be even happier, because it allows me to tick yet another resolution: Blog daily.

May your Saturdays be as (if not more) cheerful!

B x

Sorting Out My Life

Today I will sort out my life. During my last years at school this was a sentence that you would often hear from me. And though I resist voicing it these days (it’s become a bit of a joke, saying it out loud just makes me realise how ridiculous it sounds when said repeatedly), it is still very much a daily thought (except on the ‘dark’ days, of which yesterday was one).

And yes, it may be Sisyphean labour (you know it’s good when it refers to Greek mythology…) but having things sorted, or at least having a feeling of having things sorted, seems to be essential to my happiness. This is nothing new: I’ve already described to you in minute detail how much I value overview. Today, however, I’ll spill the guts about one of the ways that help me to obtain this reassuring but quite possibly imaginary feeling of control.

My not so secret tools are what I call (spot o’ Miranda!) ‘projects’. Whenever I think there is a problem, or anything I want to achieve that seems confusing and a bit overwhelming, I declare it a ‘project’. Somehow, just naming it that makes it easier to tackle. An ‘issue’ or a ‘problem’ is messy and pressing and very not nice. If you have a ‘project’, however, you have time. You have the responsibility to approach the question from several points of view before you start thinking of ways to achieve results. And even when you start implementing these actions, there is little pressure, you simply observe how it goes. A ‘problem’, on the other hand, has to be ‘resolved’, immediately if possible. So now shut up everyone who says semantics don’t matter.

At the moment, I have four major projects on the go (and when I say major, then they are really minor, but they matter to me a great deal)

Project #1: Write A Novel In A Month. This does need some planning – when best to do it? what do I need? how many words a day? In this case, declaring it a ‘project’ also helps me doing it. Otherwise it would be one of those things that make me think “I could do that. I should do that!” and then I never do it.

Project #2: Organise A Summer Gathering. Sadly, or luckily, I have my closest friends spread across several countries. This can be fun, but it also means that we don’t see each other as much. The distance, as well, and the different lives we lead, make it more difficult to organise get-togethers. I have also always been the oraganiser when it comes to those things, partly because I’m quite good at things like this and mostly because noone else would do it and I really want things to happen, so I just do them myself. I actually like it, though. Group work is not really my style, way too messy. It means however, if I want something to happen this summer, I have to nag everyone on a regular basis about everything from telling me when they’re free to booking flights to actually packing their bags. And nagging is not really on the top of my list of fun things to do. I’ll do it though, now that it is a project.

Project #3: Sleep. This one might be the biggest project so far, and you’ll be likely to hear tons about it in the near future. Basically, I don’t have problems sleeping, but I do have problems going to bed and getting out of bed, for some reason. I do my best work at night, so it’s hard for me to waste quality working and creative time by just going to sleep. This, however, has completely disrupted my sleeping pattern and the general rhythm of my life. Gotta get that sorted, and I will.

Project #4: Read A Lot. This is where calling it a project really helps me be happier instantly. For years ‘read a lot’ was a resolution that I loosely remembered, but never fulfilled to my satisfaction. This is partly because reading widens your horizon and the more you read the more you think you should read, but also because I don’t think of reading as important as it is because I enjoy it so much. So now that I’ve made it an official project, I’ll keep track of what I read, I’ll make lists of what to read next, and just like that, reading a book feels a lot more like accomplishing something than like wasting time.

Also, (as you might have noticed) I have realised today how fun it is linking back to past posts! I’ll promise not to overdo it though.

B x

Nuns And Feta Cheese – Some More Reflections

Though I had vowed to publish a post every day during Christmas break, either something I love that you might also love following in the spirit of “sharing” or as one of Gretchen Rubin’s resolutions that I could also adopt on my own terms, I failed to fully deliver on this promise. It was Rubin’s resolutions that I neglected. Nevertheless, I still have some thoughts to share on these, so you’ll have the pleasure now.

Resolution #1: Have An Idol Ms Rubin’s answer to this challenge was an obsession with some French nun who pretended to be happy to make others happy. While I understand the central idea behind this, having the author write an entire chapter about this put me off Saint Therese (I think that was her name…). It did, however, remind me that I have a nun of my own that I admire. The first I heard of her was during an English lesson on Othello where our teacher tried to challenge our assumptions about time and opinions on women’s roles. I won’t disclose too much, but if you want to learn about her click here.  Still, while it is inspiring to read about her, I see now need to idolize or incorporate her into my daily resolutions. Next!

Resolution #2: Handle Money Wisely Most people have a difficult relationship with money. So do I. But the good thing about reading self-help (or pseudo-self-help books like Gretchen Rubin’s) is that you have obvious realizations about yourself and life in general. I realized that while I do like to have a bit of a safety buffer in my bank account, obsessive saving does not make me happy. I like to spend money on things that I use and that I love. So my new goal is not to save up or spend out, but to spend money on worthy things. So I’ll ask is it worth the money? A top that I’ll wear every week is worth  it. So was my massive winter’s coat that keeps me warm and dry every day or the daylight lamp I bought which considerably lifts my mood every time I use it (and I use it a lot). Other things that I’d definitely say are worth it are the real (and more expensive) feta  cheese made of sheep’s milk instead of the cheap discounter “balkan cheese” and the 6€ bus ticket that takes me to see my family.

Have a lovely day y’all!

B x

The Worst Time For Resolutions? – A Review

Oh dear. What is it about the new year that seems to stop us from keeping our resolutions? Unlike many others, who have drafted their resolutions on or shortly before New Year’s Eve and put them into effect the day after, I started my Happiness Project and the resolutions it entails before Christmas even. Now that it is actually the new year, I have a massive slump. There is a few things that I could blame (haven’t fully re-settled into my routine, bad weather, etc.), but ultimately it’s all just me.

Now as a supplement to my constant aspiration to be organised and gain an overview, I think it is at the time to have a pit-stop and face how it is really going with my Happiness Project. Like Gretchen Rubin, I have been keeping a Resolutions chart. Sadly, or luckily, though, I am not as obsessive as this lady (also, who doesn’t like listening to music? You weird people!), so I left the chart on days that were unusual, like Christmas or when I was staying at friends’ houses. As a consequence, only half of the chart is even filled in. After all, these resolutions are specific to improving my everyday life.

What is painful to admit is that I obviously struggle hard with some of my resolutions. One that has never been ticked so far is “Go to sleep before midnight”. Here, again, I have nothing but myself to blame: the resolution is clearly defined and concise, and I know how much a regular sleeping pattern would contribute to my happiness. Yet, somehow, it challenges me more than it should.

On the plus side, there are some that I have kept every single day, that have become natural to me. After I noticed the massive discrepancy between the time I spend on it and the joy it gives me, I vowed to stay off BuzzFeed. Turns out, it is a lot easier for me to stay off it completely than to use it moderately. My abstinence has now freed me from a lot of guilt and frustration, and it now seems almost funny now that I wasted my time determining “which Disney princess” I am and finding out whether BuzzFeed could “guess my account balance”.

My most significant success so far was achieved with the help of the “Make your bed”-resolution. As a student living in student halls, apart from my desk chair the only opportunity for sitting or lounging is my bed. In combination with my sleeping habits however, this often ended with me taking extended naps on a regular basis. This was a source of constant irritation and disrupted my routines and plans rather often. Making my bed was a quick and easy measure against the tendency. The results were astonishing. Even when I did sit or lie on my bed, it was much easier for me to resist the urge to slip under the covers. This made my days more productive and my nights more restful.

The most significant development though, in my opinion, is how sensitive I have become to areas of improvement in my life and possible future resolutions. While I write them all down, just in case, I know that for now I should focus on keeping the current ones instead of thinking ahead. In one area, however, I have decided to make an exception: Education. I have my big important Danish exam in exactly a month and could definitely use some practice. Therefore, I shall compile an extra list of resolutions specific to this subject, but more on that another day.

B x

Overview, Or: My Secret To Happiness

To maintain an overview over all the little things going on at the same time in my life has always been one of my greatest struggles. So great, in fact, that it became a source of alarmingly scary panic attacks at some point.

But the more I think about it, the more the feeling of overview (others use the term ‘control’, but in my opinion ‘overview’ is a more fitting description) seems like an illusion. Now knowing that I crave this very comforting deception, I might have to learn to create it myself.

The reason all of this is currently on my mind is that I have returned to uni only yesterday and already feel like I have lost my grip. Writing helps, so here I go.

There are a few things going on at the same time. First, there is uni. Although I only have three seminars at the point, I am barely keeping up and I have trouble motivating myself to do the work that needs to be done (although it is actually enjoyable work). Then there is my happiness project. The point of it was to help me master everyday life and rid it of frustration and guilt. At this point though, my resolutions chart only seems to be yet another source of a bad conscience.

Here we go, writing is already helping. All I need to do is put on some music, have some tea and maybe a shower and voila, I have a new, more positive perspective and can focus on what I need to focus on.

So if you’d ask me know what I do to help me create the illusion of control I can honestly tell you that it is the little things: write a blog or a diary to help you get back on track, drink a cup of tea, clean yourself or your flat, make lists. Oh, and the easiest and quickest measure is good lightning. I’m telling you, I have a daylight lamp that is like pure magic (I might actually write a post in its honour soon): It’s like switching on energy and motivation, especially if you live in the north of Germany where there is very little sunlight during winter.

You must excuse me now, I need to go shower and make a list!

B x