Buenos Aires Querida

I am on my way back from Buenos Aires to Barcelona. It is the third time that I am on this route and it is the first time that I am not heartbroken to say goodbye. Still, secretly in me I am wishing if only I had one more week… Each time I leave Buenos Aires, I leave a part of myself there and I bring a part of her with me. Each time I am in Buenos Aires it is a process of self exploration and healing for me. Not a light one.

When I had to leave Buenos Aires last year, I decided to move there so that I don’t have to say goodbye again. Then my life has changed and Barcelona became my new home, which is a good compromise.

What is it with this city that I am so fascinated by and driven to? Tango is one reason and then there are many others: the warmth of her people, her imperfection, her big heart, her soul that shows that she suffered, her deep thoughts. Buenos Aires is not a city for everyone. You need to be able to be patient with her and forgive her often times. In return she will give you some most blissful memories and moments of your life.

Each time I am in Buenos Aires I discover myself again. I see my fears, insecurities and helplessness. Tango throws it at my face and I have to deal with them, yet Buenos Aires never lets me down. Her people hold me when I fall and I stand up stronger.

One month ago when I arrived, I couldn’t dance. I was blocked. This is already the second time that it happens to me. Last year was the same. It is painful. It feels like you have so much to tell but you lost your language. You cannot speak. You stutter. Sometimes some sounds come out and you get hopes. They vanish as fast as they come and what is left behind is sadness. You have so much to tell.

This is happening to me because I want to speak the language perfectly. I know how it feels when it is perfect for me. I have been there. In search of that perfection I lose myself, I get disconnected from my body. My mind takes over. I start to look for it more desperately, I punish myself for not being able to find it, then I get tense and blocked. It is a vicious circle. I get blocked and I cannot dance, I get even more blocked because I don’t dance. All these thoughts going on in my head that I cannot stop.

Buenos Aires knows me. Much better then myself. And she gently helps me out of it. She did last year and she did it again this year. When I arrived, I could hardly make a step. My body was full of tension and I had so much pain because of it. I didn’t want to go out to the milongas because I didn’t want to blame myself and I didn’t want to transmit my tension to anybody. Yet I wanted to dance. I cannot not dance, it makes me so happy…

I started seeing my teachers, two dear persons to me, who know me so well. Who know how I torture myself and who can help me out of it and they did it. Again. I started going out to the milongas. I forced myself out. I went to those that no one goes except for the very old milongueros. I found warmth and joy and sunshine in their embraces. They made me feel like a princess, which gave me self confidence again. Their clear and simple dancing put structure into my body. As I became more free day by day, my body started to remember. Day by day I started to dance better.

One day into my third week I found the perfection I was looking for. It was both a blessing and a curse as I would find out later. I found it one night at Maipu and Canning. I was connected with myself and with everyone, from my center. Young old, tall short, slim, robust…With everyone I had the connection. I felt I could dance forever. No matter with whom I danced, we spoke the same language. I was in heaven.

I woke up happy next day, expecting the same, as I had now found my long lost tango. That night I didn’t find it again. I got scared and intimidated. I stared searching for it desperately. In every partner, in every step, in every embrace I looked for it. My mind was so busy with trying to find it that I didn’t listen to the music, I didn’t live the moment. I grew sad and desperate and tense. That night was sadness as much as the previous night was pure joy. I came home devastated, only to find a FB message from a dear friend of mine who had seen everything while I was at the milonga. His message woke me up to myself. It read,

it is not a dance
it is tango

it is not about how I move my feet
it is not about how I hold my arms
it is about how I share my soul

tango is about feeling. If it feels right, It looks right. The difficult thing for the followers is trusting and letting go, much more to people that is used to be in control. …..relax, and let us take care of you…in the meantime, close your eyes and enjoy….remember the connection is on the chest and the seduction is on the feet…

I fell asleep. I woke up and decided to try to let go. Went to the next milonga. I will always be grateful to my dear friend for teaching me to gain my freedom…. For once, I was able to be free of my thoughts. I decided not to punish myself and I could. I decided to listen to the music and give up all the responsibility and I could. That night I had my connection back again. Magic.

There is much that I learned again in Buenos Aires. I will share more because I believe in each one of us there is an insecure and burdened child. Maybe Buenos Aires helps. She helped me. It is not about tango. It is about life. That night I learned, again, what it means to have self-compassion, to accept oneself, to like oneself no matter what and to let go.

Man is free at the moment he wishes to be – Voltaire

The Beautiful Truth

…is the name of a movie I haven’t yet seen. I read that it is a documentary movie about a doctor’s quest for curing cancer through alternative methods. Dr. Max Gerson is his name.

The quotation you will now read in the next lines is from this movie that I haven’t yet seen. It stumbled upon it by chance when looking for something else. Best things always happen when you least expect.

Reading it made me breath and smile big because I found myself in it. It is a beautiful piece of text which I want to return to whenever I am searching for meaning in my life. If you are also in search of it, don’t search it too far. It is in the lines written below, and in the moments of the days of your life.

Live A Life That Matters

What will matter ready or not, someday it will all come to an end. There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.

All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else. Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance. It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.

Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear. So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will expire. The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.

It won’t matter where you came from, or on what side of the tracks you lived, at the end. It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant. Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured? 

What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave. 

What will matter is not your success, but your significance. What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.

What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence, but your character.

What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.

What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you. What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.

Choose to live a life that matters.

– Michael Josephson

Self Compassion

If you are like me, you also lack self compassion. It means you do not love yourself enough and accept yourself the way you are. Probably you are also a perfectionist which goes hand in hand. Ironically, you can be a very compassionate person to the others. You can feel their pain as well as pleasure, have lots of empathy, you may want help others and easily forgive their severest mistakes. Yet, when it comes to you it is a different story.

How does lack of self compassion manifest itself? In sum, you predominantly have negative thoughts about yourself. You are not smart enough, slim enough, successful enough, not a good enough dancer, not a good enough mother…You see the connection with perfectionism? You create a totally unrealistic figure of the perfect you and you constantly judge yourself and punish yourself for not being that. You do not realize that no human being can be that perfect figure simply because we are humans and we cannot be flawless. Instead of saying “well, I am the way I am and I am enough”, you nonstop worry about not having performed good enough. Performing is the keyword here.

People without self compassion define their worth according to how well they perform anything. It goes like: I have succeeded in managing these 5 projects, so I am a good project manager, so I am worth existing. It follows that if I did not succeed I do not deserve to exist. Similarly: I have danced the whole night with the best dancers, so I am a good dancer, so people love me because I dance well, so I deserve to exist.  Which also means if I do not dance well, people do not love me and I should not exist. Welcome existential fear. To avoid that fear we madly try to become perfect and enter a vicious cycle.

The reasons for lack of self compassion come from our childhood. No surprise. We might have been raised up in a family that values perfection, performance and achievement. For example, you may have been rewarded if your room was always clean and tidy, if you did not cry, if you did not ask for things. You may have been punished otherwise. As a result, you learned that to be loved and appreciated by your parents, whom you depend on to exist, you have to perform well. Your being loved depends on a condition, which propagates to the later stages of your life. In the end, you do not know what is unconditional love, so that you cannot love yourself unconditionally either.

Once I understood the concept, I started to work on it. I have to say it is very hard work, at least for me. Some days I succeed, some days I fail. Everyday I practice to embrace myself the way I am. If I put on 2 kilos I try to tell myself it does not change the fact that I have friends who like me with or without my 2 kilos, that I am still healthy and free. If I fail in a job interview, I try to analyze what happened and if there is anything I can improve on my side for the next one. Yet, I do not go around saying to myself I am not good enough, smart enough etc. Instead, I try to think of all my accomplishments until now. I may reread my CV to remind me of those. If I have a quarrel or conflict with someone, I try to understand the situation and put myself in her shoes before I jump start blaming myself for the things I did or said wrong. She may also be on her bad day and not being fair to me. And most importantly I breathe a lot. We forget to breathe so easily because we are so carried away by our thoughts, beliefs and fears. Breathing calls me back to here and now and releases a lot of tension from my body.

Finally, there is a researcher I discovered, Dr. Kristin Neff, who works on self compassion and whose findings helped me quite much. Here are the daily short exercises she recommends. Here is her website, Self Compassion.org, which has lots of resources and a TED talk. I read her book as well, which I recommend if you have time or want to take the time for it.

When the light has been removed and my wife has fallen silent, aware of this habit that’s now mine, I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by. For why should I fear any consequence from my mistakes, when I’m able to say, “See that you don’t do it again, but now I forgive you.”

Seneca

My/Your Next Job

I now have been in an intensive process of looking for a job, applying, interviewing etc. Much reflection and experience have accumulated, which I want to share. I hope it helps you if you are going through the same process.

Here is what I learned for myself:

Knowing who you are: It is as simple and as difficult as it sounds. When we go to an interview we bring ourselves. We are expected to talk about us. So, we really need to know who we are, otherwise we are wasting our host’s time and ours as well. For me who I am, for the purposes of an interview, has two main pillars. One is what I can do for the company/organization professionally. What skills and experience do I bring to the company that it needs? How can I help the company make a difference with my experience and expertise? For example, “I am an IT Program/Product Manager with more than 10 years of experience in delivering products and running and evaluating projects. I have done this at global enterprises and organizations in the software and life sciences industries.” So I can help them run IT projects and develop IT products, and I can do it fluently also in the pharma industry, which is always a bit different. It would be best if I can additionally help the company explore new horizons  with what I bring in. New opportunities, new markets, new customers.

The other, and equally important pillar, is what are our values? What is important for us as a person, not as workforce.  We spend the bigger portion of our daily lives in our work environment. Whether we like to think of it that way or not, it is our family. Can you think of being a part of a family, whose values you do not share? I don’t. That’s why it is important to express our personal values, understand the company’s values and see if they are aligned. For example, for me respect, transparency, trust, open communication, humbleness, integrity and good will are extremely important. To me having a good social cause, helping the ones who are underprivileged are very important. As result I have preferred to work in the life sciences and healthcare sector over working at the finance sector. In the same way I will always linger longer in the teams where both negative and positive experiences are discussed openly and with good will. I will run away from the ones where shaming, blaming, fingerpointing and intrigues are common practices, even if the pay is very well. These are my values, these are what I bring in and look for.  It requires time and reflection to understand who we really are, but once we know the answer, I believe finding what we look for is so much easier.

Knowing what you want: Of course we all want a steady income, stability, routine and being able to say “Yes, I have a job”. It is only human. Still it is important to know exactly what we want and go only for that. If it is something temporary just to get an income we should be aware of it. If we want a career and have aspirations we should acknowledge it. If we value money over convenience it is good to keep it in mind. If we prefer a friendly working atmosphere to everything else we should prioritize it. It is very helpful to reflect on what we actually want and what fulfills us, so that we can be selective about the positions we apply. In this way we don’t randomly apply for just about anything which will show during the interview if we get selected at all. Instead we know how to position ourselves and speak confidently about why we are there.

A short CV: Definitely not more than 2 pages. I know this is very hard if you are an experienced professional. It feels like everything is important, which it is.  It is about you and your life and accomplishments. My earlier CV was a 6 page monster. Yet, realistically we are only one in the bucket of a million applicants. The recruiter is also only a human with limited time and resources. So we have to help him/her, otherwise s/he has no other choice to move on to the next shorter CV on his/her monster deck of applications. It is good to only mention the positions relevant  to what we are applying for. Surely this is much more work for us, but it pays off.

Customizing: Have you heard about Applicant Tracking Systems? This is an HR software that handles CVs before it gets to a human. It parses the CVs to extract keywords to compare them with those from the job description. Only when your CV passes a certain overlap threshold a human eye gets to see it. This means that we have to customize our CVs for each and every position we apply for to convince the software in the first place. Ideally, we reuse the keywords from the job description in the CV to  reach the optimal overlap. It goes without saying that I would put only those things that I am skilled at otherwise it would be asserting untruth. In other words, I write down things which I can defend and exemplify during the interview.

Being authentic: What really pays off, I think, is being authentic. I have heard this so many times from senior managers during my career. I admired it. Yet, I can say it is only now that I also truly understand and value it. Being authentic at work is not easy, because  after all we need money, stability and recognition. It seems an easy way to get there is to blend in. Going with the crowds, doing what the others do, not falling off. In the long term though this is not good. As human beings we are all unique and have our individual characters and values. This is what makes us us. If we compromise on it, we compromise on ourselves as humans, and no job is worth it. I learned for myself, given that I can afford it i.e. no children nor sick people depend on my salary to survive, I will not work for a company that does not share my values. I prefer to work for a company/institution that has a social cause than one that does not. I will not take a job, in which I do not find meaning, only for the sake of money. I will not compromise on my values and integrity. I learned that if I stay loyal to myself and to that what makes me me, I have the chance to contribute my best to the company I work for and that shines genuinely.

Embracing rejection: Not getting a position, being turn down after an interview is not a personal failure. There are so many factors that contribute to the decision of a company whether to hire or not. The budget may be cut, the managers might be leaving, the position might have been promised to someone internally long ago. Or we just don’t fit with the company culture, which is totally fine. It means the company culture doesn’t fit with us either. Would you want to spend your everyday with someone, who you do not understand and appreciate? Would you choose to marry someone who you do not love? It is the same thing. So rejection is not rejection as such, but it is an opportunity for us to understand ourselves better so that we will still have the chance to find the right match. It is an opportunity to grow personally.

Not overselling and underselling oneself: We all put ourselves out there. We want to look good, smart, we want to be accepted, we want to convince. It is so easy to overdo this during the interview within the intensity of the moment. One more skill to add up, one more little success story to share…However, recruiters and hiring managers are also humans, and they have been there where we are now. All day They keep seeing many other candidates, who tell that they are “oh so great”. I think, also here being authentic, being modest but self-confident is the best approach. Just to tell what is relevant to the question, and to undermine it with credible facts and numbers. A small anecdote may help, but not to each and every question. Having said this, overdone modesty is not good either. We all have lived, worked and accomplished things in our lives, that we consider as success and we are proud of them. Why hold back on those? Isn’t it wonderful to share those experience with others? Maybe our experiences can help them in their current situation, or at least make them smile. Isn’t a smile worth a try?

These have been the major topics that I had to reflect on for myself. I will share others as I accumulate them.

Would You Do a PhD?

It has been 5 years since I completed my PhD. After a very long time, this morning I returned to my thesis to read the Acknowledgements section I wrote back then to feel and understand why I chose to do a PhD. At this very moment, I can only say I am a happy and a lucky person that I could do exactly what I wanted to do. I feel the same passion and emotions that I felt before I got on that journey. I am sharing what I wrote back then hoping that it could help maybe you to decide if that could also be your journey.

15. April.2011

My limitless curiosity and hunger to know more has led me to do a PhD. The reason why I decided for a PhD in computational linguistics is that I find peace in the calmness of rational thought and excitement in the surprises of natural language.

After three years of research, I realized that this has been one of the most challenging journeys that I have ever taken. I have taken many journeys to many different places and cultures but this has been an essentially different one. It has been a journey to myself, during which I discovered new horizons and my own limits.

In the first place I would like to thank my supervisors Klaus Schulz and Paul Buitelaar, who invested a wealth of time and thoughts to make this research happen. Without their expertise, insights, patience and without our valuable discussions that inspired me, I would have been lost during this journey. Whenever I was on my way getting lost, they showed me the directions that put me back on track. Thank you.

I want to thank my parents for encouraging me, supporting me and cherishing in every little success I had, be it a paper accepted or a presentation that went well. Thank you that you stood by me whenever I felt insecure along the way.

My Dr. Göran Wennerberg thank you for the unconditional support you gave me, when I most needed it. Having traveled the same journey, you knew how I felt at every single step I took. Without your support, this book would not have been here now.

Thank you my friends that you have been very supportive and understanding for all my unavailabilities and my moods that ranged between joy and agony.

Finally, I want to thank Siemens Research for funding the research presented in this thesis, and supporting me to make it happen. It has been a valuable experience for me to conduct this research within the Siemens Corporation as it showed me real life research problems. It has been a very satisfying experience to and solutions to actual problems and to eventually make the owners of the problems happy.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. Samuel Beckett

The New Life – Days in Barcelona II

This is now my third week in Barcelona. Time is going with the wind. Everything still feels right and in place. I am getting up in the morning without worrying about the weather. Without the feeling of missing out on something by staying at home. It is a relief. I am taking each day as it comes and I am just being. Nice things are happening.

Since I announced that I moved here, I have received many messages from my friends across the globe. Many cheered up for me who knew how much I have been longing for the south. Some were surprised and some opened their heart to me. They said I have done what they have been dreaming of doing but not daring. They wanted to know how I did it. How did you do? How is it possible?

Why not? We have only one life, which we don’t know if we have it tomorrow. We spend it either by missing our ‘happy’ past or making plans for our ‘happy’ future often in an environment that we force ourselves to fit in. How about being happy now? That we postpone because we are too busy with worrying or planning. How did I do? I stopped doing that. Instead, I bought a flight ticket.

Yesterday I met a friend. I had not seen him for fourteen years. We had studied together back in the USA. We were both exchange students. He just happened to be around here with his family and we met. What a magic moment. As if no fourteen years had passed. As if we had seen each other only yesterday. His beautiful kids showed me their souvenir toys shyly. Happiness of being here and now and it is priceless.

In the evening I went out for dinner with another friend. A touristy place but we didn’t mind. In a little while a street musician walked in and he went directly towards a big a table to entertain them. I started listening to him as it was impossible not to. I thought I heard him singing in Turkish. But that must be an illusion. Did I miss home already? No. He was really singing in Turkish. He was singing the old tavern songs that I remember from my childhood. My family and their friends used to go out to those taverns to eat fish and drink raki, later the music would start and everyone would dance. He was singing those songs.  The big table was all Turkish. They started to dance and sing along loudly. I sang with them and clapped my hands. Just like back at home, back in my childhood. Then we all started to cheer up together. The musician was not Turkish. And he understood no single word. He just knew and sang the old Turkish tavern songs so perfectly. So perfectly that he filled us and himself all with joy.

I have been seeking these moments. I have been longing for them so strongly that nothing else mattered. That is how I did it. Happiness of being here and now and it is priceless.

If you want to be happy, be. Leo Tolstoy

Fear of Life by Alexander Lowen

“One day I read a book and my whole life was changed”. This is what Orhan Pamuk writes in his book “The New Life”.  That is a difficult book, it cost me a lot of time and energy to understand, if I did at all…But. Recently, I read a book.  My whole life was changed. No. Just, everything fell in place…It is a book by Alexander Loewen called the “Fear of Life“. It is a book that you find searching in the category ‘Psychology’ in Amazon. It is such a coincidence how I landed on this book… I am grateful.

After having read the book many things fell in place. Even my education on English language and literature. The book discusses the Genesis, the Fall and the Greek mythology extensively.

I found this book because of tango. How could you tell…I stumbled upon a blog one day called the Tango Principles. The author was talking about a therapeutic approach called Bioenergetics and how it helped  him overcome the tensions in his body. Being the curious person am I went on reading.

The founder of this school called Bioenergetic Therapy is Alexander Loewen. He has numerous books and is the founder of the institute with the same name. I started reading him. A lot.

It is a beautiful book which wakes you up to yourself and to life, if you let it. A few years ago I may not have understood many things I read, or connect with. But now everything falls in place… Loewen’s main message is that we cannot be happy if we ignore our bodies and operate only with our minds. Yet, our cultural society and the civilization drive us to do so and reward us when we do so. We are all after success, money, titles, possessions because we equate them to happiness and security.  Are they?

If freedom is happiness, how free are we when we have all those things? He says we don’t need much to be happy, we just need to ensure that our ‘self’ is aligned with our body. Meaning listening to what comes from our heart,  core and physical body and not only or mainly from the left side of our brains.

So true. I had to think back about my life and decisions…everything I decided with my heart and ‘belly’ felt right and made me happy…All decisions resulting only from rational thinking turned out to bring me unhappiness sooner or later.

Why do we do that though? Why do we ignore our instincts and always go with the mind? Because the civilization and acculturation educates us to do so. But then, Loewen says, our bodies are so much older than our minds. They are the products of millions of years of evolution, they have been through things. Our bodies know. All we need to do is to trust them more and let go.

Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease. Hippocrates

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Success

I stumbled over this poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson today. He is a 19th cc. US American thinker, literate and poet. He belongs to the school of transcendentalists as I read. So, he belonged to a generation of people, whose attempt was to define spirituality and religion that reflect  the new understandings of their era. He was involved in social reforms such as  anti-slavery and women’s rights.

What he wrote about success made me think. I read these lines over and over to pick my most favorite one, even though I can identify myself with the entire poem. For me this is the purest, yet most contentful and actually the most beautiful definition of success. Here is what he says:

SUCCESS

To laugh often and much
to win the respect of intelligent people
and affection of children; to earn the
appreciation of honest critics and
endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty, to find the best
in others; to leave the world a bit
better, whether by a healthy child
a garden patch or redeemed
social condition; to know even
one life has breathed easier because
you have lived. This is to have
succeeded.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now I know my most favorite line: “..to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.” . I thought hard to decide whether this holds for me…I don’t know, I really don’t. I hope so…It matters to me.
This line crosses my mind everyday now. It makes me happy, makes me feel better.  Because each new day gives me the chance to make it happen.