“Must”, “It’s Impossible”, “I’ll try” and other Tyrants

Lately I have been working a lot with young people. Students. Members in NGOs or student organisations. Some on their first job. Other interns in different companies. Beautiful, curious, intelligent, ambitious, willing to learn. Every time my workshops are an invitation to introspection. We talk about authenticity, emotions, personal values, mission in life. It’s a difficult exercise even for people more experienced, let alone for 19-20 year olds who are just starting in their life journey. I’m always happy to see how bravely the throw themselves into these inner conversations despite their youth, or maybe because of it. Then I feel their confusion and even fear when the answers they give themselves to the question “Who am I” don’t match what they have been taught to believe is “normal”, “good”, “compulsory”, “possible”.  “There is no job where I can be completely happy, I need to compromise if I want to be successful”. “I will be happy when I get really high up on the corporate ladder and for that I need to work hard on the things I’m good at, not necessarily on what I like”. “Money comes first on my list of values, but that’s only normal at 21; now I have to find the highest paying job possible so I can raise enough money to have my own business by the time I turn 25”. “You can’t do only what you dream in life”. “I can’t see myself doing the job I studied for, but I have to carry on because I’m to scared to try something else”. “My parents told me that life is not easy and I need to fight and make sacrifices if I want to succeed”. “I was told that these are my talents and this is the most appropriate career for me, the one that will make me successful”.  These are all statements I heard over time from young people that I worked with. And not seldom did I leave these workshops with a nagging question: When exactly...

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Coaching, More Than a Fad

I talk about coaching almost daily- in leadership workshops, in one on one sessions, in meetings with students, in NGOs, in corporations, in casual coffee talks. Coaching has long ago crossed the border of my professional life and is filling up my existence in surprising ways. I sometimes get calls from my closest friends telling me: “Alis, I have a problem, I don’t want your advice, I need coaching”. Other times I find myself coaching Viorel, or he coaching me and, contrary to what the “norm” says (to avoid coaching your life partner) we, as a couple, have grown immensely from such earnest and non-judgemental conversations. They helped us become, separately and together, wiser and more self-aware. My relationship with coaching started over six years ago in bitter disappointment. I was keen to better understand what this fuss about coaching was all about, so I enrolled in a course – one of the few available on the Romanian market at that time. I got a lot of materials to read, I attended a few days’ workshop, where I listened trainers talking about techniques, types of questions, models, standards, ethics, process – concepts which I largely found cold and sterile. They talked more about ways to make money from coaching than about what coaching really was or how one could become a great coach. I was already working as a professional corporate trainer, I loved my job, I had no motivation to learn coaching just to make more money. I was keen to learn because I had an intuition that it might help me to reach people’s hearts and make a difference through my work. I left that course with a bitter taste, but also with a feeling that there was more to coaching than I had been shown thus far – I just needed to get that information from somewhere or someone else. Then, one year later, I met Sir John Whitmore. The man is a legend. Many consider him one of the founding fathers of...

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Life in Fear. Life in Love. Or, the power of Blue.

Some time ago I received a short email with perhaps one of the most profound messages I had read in a while. It came from one of my clients, a manager in a large company, with whose team I had just spent a very special day. It was a day when a group of very professional business people, serious, intelligent, highly performant and competitive took off their corporate masks and allowed themselves to be just human – beautiful, sensitive, vulnerable, imperfect and amazingly authentic. It was a day when I used the psychometric instruments from Human Synergistics to measure the way these people interacted within the team and start a long discussion about the attitudes we can have towards one another – aggressive (red), passive (green) or constructive (blue). We talked about how aggressiveness and passivity, both consequences of fear, are two ways we humans have learnt, at a very young age, to protect ourselves. Constructivism, on the other hand, is rooted in trust and goodwill and is a drive we all had in our first years of life, but which we  forgot once too many layers of negative experiences have polluted the innocence of our childhood. Every time I explain to a group the mechanisms of fear and trust I realise it’s hard to find the perfect words and metaphors which would give meaning to the message, particularly when the audience is hyper-rational. I hear, in the business environment, all sorts of well-intended questions which are very hard to answer without becoming too abstract: “Why would it be better for us to stop competing amongst ourselves – competition drives results, doesn’t it?”; “What’s in it for me if I decide to help another rather than act in my own best interest?”; “How can we still achieve great outcomes in a hyper-competitive world if we have other people’s best interest at heart?”; “Altruism and profit can really go hand in hand?”; “Can I trust others and give up control without taking the risk of being disappointed...

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10 Recipes for Guaranteed Unhappiness

Over the past few years I learnt that there are no accidental encounters and there are no moments, however mundane, which cannot be turned into a lesson or a source of inspiration. Today I had the gift of such a meeting and such a moment. One of my workshop participants, with whom I discovered I had common interests and even common friends, was telling me over lunch about Luminița, the author of the popular blog Purpose Fairy, a fine place where I often go for inspiration. We ended up talking about an article she wrote — “15 things you should give up in order to be happy”, which I hadn’t read (yet), but whose message resonated with me and a thought I have been having lately: How come we keep getting lost on our way to happiness and yet many of us are masters in the “art” of unhappiness?  After this talk and reading that article I realized I have no idea if there is any formula for happiness, but I could easily come up with a list of recipes for unhappiness. It’s becoming clearer and clearer, in my work with people, that fulfillment, inner peace and joy can be achieved in countless ways. I know what makes me happy but I could hardly offer that as a general rule for others. I read so many books — scientific, psychological, spiritual — each taught me something valuable. I help people experiment with happiness every day, I can make suggestions, offer perspectives, but I cannot tell anyone what they should do to be happy. Along the way I learnt so much about happiness, but was left with few, if any, certainties. Today I realised, as a revelation, that on my search for happiness I’ve come across some (I could call them) certainties on unhappiness. I have met and continue to meet so many unhappy people every day that I dare say I have unintentionally become a sort of an expert in the most effective ways one could render oneself completely, profoundly...

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Cause, Effect and the Lesson You Have Yet to Learn

Feb 24, 14 Cause, Effect and the Lesson You Have Yet to Learn

Posted by in Mindfulness, Thoughts/Ideas

One of my greatest revelations this year was the idea that there are two ways of living: At Cause and at Effect.  C => E  is a symple equation which describes a more than complex concept. Life “at Effect” is what most of us are living when we complain or feel sorry for ourselves. At “Effect” we are overwhelmed by circumstances we cannnot control, the causes for our unhappiness is outside of us, others are to blame, we have bad luck, we have problems. At Effect we cannot control anything – others or external circumstances care controlling us. At Effect someone else is always to blame. Us? Never! At Effect we are victims, powerless. The fundamental question that urges us to live at Effect is Why?. In case you haven’t noticed, people rarely ask Why? when things are going well. “Why did you get an A?” is an almost unnatural question. “Why did you get a C?” is the norm. When we ask ourselves or others “why?” what we get are excuses, justifications, stories, explanations. “Why?” is the easiest recipe for victimising someone, for putting him or her on a defensive, to simply throw them at Effect. “At Cause” the attitude is completely different. Here is the place where we finally get rid of the Why? and replace it with What? and How?. “At Cause” we are no longer powerless, on the contrary, we have the certainty that we can do something regardless of the circumstances, that there are no unsurmountable obstacles and that every experience, hard as it may be, is a lesson. Instead of wallowing in self-pity we ask ourselves “what can I learn from this?” or “what can I do with this situation?” or “what opportunities lay hidden here?”. At Cause  we feel fully responsible for our lives. Of course there are circumstances, moments, people, instances we cannot control. Being at Cause give us the certainty that we can always control our attitudes towards whatever is happening in our lives in a given instant. At Effect you see no lessons, just bad luck. Unhappy childhoods, failed relationships, uninspiring jobs. At Cause you can choose to do something...

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About learning and why I love my job

Yesterday evening I spent more than two hours with a group of young people from Romania’s first Alternative University. It’s the second year when I am hosting a 2.0 Course in this amazing community of curious and eager for knowledge people. The theme? “Self-awareness”. If you wonder what a course on self-awareness looks like, the answer is simple- it has little to do with what we learnt in our school years that a course “should” be – a set of  information you need to memorise and then reproduce as good as possible. A 2.0 Course is a journey. There is no compulsory attendance. No grades. There is a series of informal meetings in which, starting from participants’ objectives, I suggest topics for debate. I offer them information which we discuss and analyse together. I recommend books. We talk about neuroscience, psychology, spirituality. We approach “self-discovery” from as many angles as possible, always aware that no perspective, as appealing as it may be, ever represents the absolute truth. From one meeting to another they take on new topics for thought and experimentation. They test the information they received. They challenge it. They prepare more and more questions for our next meeting. My purpose is to challenge them to think, to doubt, to test, to dig inside of themselves. If, in the end, they leave with some answers and even more questions than they had when we first met, then I believe it was a success. Last night, leaning into my good old friend, the flip-chart, I experimented a moment of pure joy. The joy of offering all my energy and receiving theirs in exchange. Unlike many of my “corporate” workshops, where people come skeptical and wait for me to convince them that the experience will hold value for them, young people come to 2.0 Courses because they chose to be there. They are just starting their journey through life, they are convinced that anything is possible and they have very few inner barriers and very little...

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