Mountains, Beaches and Hippies

A guest post by Anike Marberg

Unbeknown by many people, Portugal has long been a destination for hippies, misfits and those that want to live a different life than the one so often found in many “Western” societies. During the 1970s and 80s, many hippies from Northern Europe, disillusioned by the political and cultural systems and the decline of their movement came to seek an alternative to joining the rat race in their home countries.

Almost secretly, this often overlooked country on the edge of Europe became the new hideaway for those seeking a different life.

Inspired by the beautiful beaches of the Algarve, the rocky mountains of inner Portugal and the near year-round sunshine, many made the trip south, including my parents. Many acquired small farms and lived as self-sufficient farmers, others in small communes while others established small businesses, restaurants and even entire eco-villages.

After living for years in communes in Germany and faced with having to make a choice between taking up ‘proper’ jobs or moving, they set out together for a better life in the sun in 1982. Establishing themselves in the mountains of the West-Algarve, they brought with them not much else but their two kids, a camper van and many ideals and just enough money to buy a small plot of land.

For us kids, living in the sun was a total difference to life in grim and grey Germany. Although the community in the Algarve was much smaller than the community we left behind, it was far more colourful, fun and enjoyable than anything we experienced in Germany. We first lived in a small commune in the western region of the Algarve, were the kids came form all over Europe and even some from Brazil. Playing and being outside became a new way of life. And we explored in amazement our new terrain, the freedom and the wilderness that now became home.

While many Portuguese looked on in puzzled amazement what these foreigners got up to, the welcome was warm and friendly. Curious at times, distant at others, but always in a manner that was pleasant, welcoming and friendly. We soon became friends with some local kids, which meant navigating linguistic, cultural and attitude differences. I still remember trying to explain to a local friend what my parents were doing in this country and why we were not allowed to eat meat. To this day, I’m sure, the now grown up hasn’t quite understood what those strange people did here. But as long as it was fun, it was good enough.

In my early twenties I left to explore the other side of my identity. But after a few years in Germany, I quickly realised that visiting my parents meant more to me than just holidays in the sun. Every time I was back in Munich, I missed the sun, the mountains, the friendly smiles and the happy vibes that made Portugal feel more home than the country where I was born.

When I moved back here in my thirties, it felt like coming home, too. Although I my way of life is different then the way my parents live: I live with a husband, in a comfortable house and with two dogs. Nevertheless, the welcome I received was just the same as the welcome my parents had some twenty years earlier. And I’m loving living here every single day. Even on the rare days where it rains, I’m grateful that my parents made the choice for Portugal – a place I missed so much when I was away.

Welcome to 30 Days for Self-love!

Self-love seems so often unrequited. Anthony Powell Click To Tweet

Welcome to the 30 Days Self-Love! Starting on the 1 May and over the next 30 days this program will focus on developing and fostering your self-love, as loving yourself is probably the most important thing you can do. Without loving yourself, it is hard to develop and keep good relationships, stick up for yourself and support others.

But loving yourself is not as easy as it sounds: with the stresses of modern, daily life, especially as gay men, it is hard to find time and motivation to look at yourself and see how beautiful you really are. But not only time and motivation are a problem: all too often, it can be the environment in which we live, too. Sometimes even supposedly safe spaces, such as the gay scene, can make it really hard for people to love themselves. With constant demands for being perfect, being young, fit, the perfect lover… the scene, the media and people around us can have a seriously detrimental effect on our self-love. With all the demands and stresses related to these constant demands for perfection, it is no wonder that gay men are three times more likely to suffer than straight men.

In fact, the statistics when it comes to gay men and mental health, especially confidence and self-love are truly shocking: in a recent survey by London gay group GMFA, more than half of the men questioned had suicidal thoughts. Almost a quarter of the men surveyed had actually attempted to take their own lives. 70% of the men talked about low self-esteem, with relationship issues, isolation and not feeling attractive major factors. And while for straight men things get better as they age, sadly, this isn’t the case for gay men: Older gay men suffer significantly more from depression and low self-esteem than both their straight and younger counterparts.

So what can we do about this? The first step is to recognise the issue, and to learn and look at ourselves more objectively, and see how we really are. Just think: if you go into a gay bar, would you think that over half of the guys there think that they are not attractive? Probably not. But that is exactly what the statistics tell us. And I’m not talking measuring men about an abstract beauty ideal here. In fact, more than half of gay men think they are unattractive to all or the majority of other gay men. Is it really surprising then, that so few would even think about themselves as loveable?
But luckily, you have decided that it is time to love yourself. And that is, after all, the first and probably biggest step to a develop a happier, healthier, sexier and more attractive you, no matter what your body looks like. Because, as the saying goes, there is nothing as attractive as someone who actually loves himself.

I should briefly add here that loving yourself shouldn’t be confused with narcissism, arrogance or self-centredness: These are the exact opposites of self-love. Mostly they are behaviours developed to hide crippling self-hate. This is a fact worthwhile remembering when you come across someone like that next: behind a facade of criticising and belittling others, mostly hides someone desperately trying to hide his real self from anyone else.

But enough of the backstory, let’s begin with some points about how the program will work:

The program is divided into days. 30 days exactly (hence the name!). Every day will consist of a brief introduction of the topic or concept and how it helps to create real and lasting self-love.
Each day, there will also be an activity to perform. Most of these will be reflective, but some will be actual physical activities. Some of these activities are designed to be a one-off, like making a list of things you like. Others are activities that you can repeat daily if you want. Each activity will tell you about this.

After each activity there are three questions to help you reflect on the activity and to deepen your learning. If you are following the program online or using an eBook version, I suggest you invest in a small note book to keep the notes for each day. If you are using the printed/PDF version of the program, it will have the boxes to put your notes in printed for you.
Importantly: please don’t skip these questions! They may seem trivial and it is often tempting to just focus on the activity. But it is only by reflecting on the activity by using the questions that you can really create actual change.

The program is divided into three parts:

The first part of the program introduces a few basic principles, such as gratitude, kindness, positive thinking and some skills, such as reframing. These form the basic tool kit for the main program.

The second part then uses this tool kit to develop self-esteem and confidence, and identifies strategies for longer lasting, positive change in the way you see yourself.

The third part focuses on developing a realistic body image and identifies strategies and ways to deal with body image issues, including assumptions about the perfect body and challenging negative thinking. In the round-up, the program focuses on developing resilience for the future.

Before we start though a little word of caution: much can be achieved in 30 days. In fact, many people who have followed a 30 day program are often like changed people. However, change doesn’t just happen in 30 days. Keeping up the hard work and sticking with a few of the tools that you’ll be introduced to in the next few days and strategies you’ll develop during the month will help you to really make the change permanent.

And now… sit back and relax. On Monday (Day 1), we will be looking at the concept of self-love in more detail.

To follow the full program, remember to check back on every day from Monday, 1. May. You can also subscribe to the newsletter (sent weekly) here. I’ll be making the full program, including all activities available for free on this website until 31 May. During May, you can save all the daily activities or print them for your own personal use. After this date, you will be able to download all activities and the full text as a PDF-file – or a printed book.

Take-home message for today: It’s not easy to love yourself, but it is probably the most important investment you will make and the basis of a happier future.

Interview with urbangay founder Stephan

Tell us a bit more about the idea behind urbangay?
Urbangay is really an invitation to pause and build an individual philosophy about your life and your sexuality. As such it is collection of different tools and ideas to help live happier and more purposeful lives for gay men. In some ways, I guess, it is about finding a positive response to the often toxic environment in which gay men live. It combines both life-coaching and sexuality skills and tools to help guys create the life and sexuality they really want: a place where they can fully live and be comfortable and happy with whom they are.

Why do you think modern gay life can be a toxic environment?
If you look at gay life, despite all the advances in gay rights, a big issue is that there are still far too few positive examples, which show how to live a happy and purposeful life, or even develop an individual, positive philosophy for yourself as a gay men. Much of the gay scene is based on competitiveness: Often, happiness is synonymous with having the most beautiful body, being young and having lots of a particular kind of sex. The more you fit that ideal, the more ‘successful’ you are assumed to be. And while that is really great for some, and interesting for a while, it can become quite shallow and unhappy as time goes by. For others, especially if you don’t fit into one of the established categories, many people who don’t fit that particular ideal feel excluded and lonely. Either way, rather than liberating, welcoming and inclusive, the quintessential gay life often makes people feel unhappy – others seek more and more ways of finding happiness and fulfilment, often self-destructive. The results can be really devastating. But the point is, they don’t have to be.

What alternatives does urbangay provide?
With urbangay I’m trying to build a community of men who want to embrace a more meaningful life together, including both life in general and their sexuality. Rather than being based on competition, appearance and material and sexual success, urbangay is based on working together and helping each other, accepting differences, encouraging finding your way in life and sex and embracing diversity. That, in a nutshell is the urbangay philosophy.
The core is about developing an individual philosophy, where you combine both happiness in life and sexuality to define who you are and who you want to be. For me, it is really important to be comfortable with whom you are first: only when you feel secure and happy with yourself can you really embrace others and different ideas. As a first step, the programs are designed to make everyone question what it is that they want to achieve in life, and how they want to express and embrace their sexuality as an important part of whom they are. Based on that, everyone develops their own models and puts them into practice. Once they have achieved that, they can then help others achieve the same.

How does the urbangay philosophy work in practice?
There are really two different, interconnected parts: life and sexuality. As for the life part, urbangay offers different tools to ‘design’ a life that you are really happy with. Something that is fulfilling and bring together different skills closely resembling traditional life-coaching ideas.
For the sexuality part, urbangay follows a similar path: the programs try to broaden the mind and let you experience and explore different types of sexuality and ideas about it. Then everyone can choose what is right for them, based on their own ideas and experiences, rather than what ‘is expected’ (or often expected to be expected!)
Both parts are then fused together. This is really important, so that every urbangay is both comfortable with the sexuality they are living and the life that they are living.

What methods does urbangay use to achieve this?
Urbangay mixes different methods or tools if you so want: the main tool is mindfulness. Mindfulness brings awareness to the feelings and emotions in us. This helps to observe and define what you want out of life and sex and see more clearly how and what is important for you, irrespective of what others tell you. So that establishes a foundation from which to grow and develop.
Apart from mindfulness, the different programs borrow other tools: for example, there is a focus on tantra as an alternative to the usual sexual paradigm. But as it is about finding your own way, nothing is prescribed, and you don’t have to become a tantra practitioner. The programs simply contain many  tools and ideas, and everyone is invited to pick and choose to establish their own mix – and share their experiences.

How is urbangay different to other programs out there?
It really depends on which programs you compare it to. In many ways, I think it complements lots of programs more than being different. Mostly it is about developing and individual philosophy for combining life and sex, rather than either one in isolation.
So, for example, there are many general life coaching and happiness programs out there, but they are never really taking account of sexual orientation, and rarely try to bring sexual expression into life as an important aspect of the individual.
Similarly, there are many really great alternative sexuality programs out there, some of whom are linked on the blog. They do fantastic work offering seminars and meetings to explore different forms of sexuality rather than the typical suck, fuck, cum idea. The difference there is that they are often based on particular philosophical or spiritual ideas (e.g. Tantra), and they are often quite focused mostly on sex, rather than bringing both sex and life together.

What about the bootcamp? Is that all that there is?
The bootcamp has just recently finished. I’m really excited about the positive feedback and many people seem to really enjoy the experience. Of course, it is more like dipping your toe into the urbangay ideas. It spends a few days on each of the points. It gives a pretty good grounding of the main ideas, and a basis from which to explore everything more in depth.
Over the next year, there will be many more programs coming up on the site, which explore individual aspects of the urbangay ‘philosophy’ if you so want. So look out for them! They will be available for free during the time they are scheduled to run. So check the website for the details!

Why 30 days?

Why is the bootcamp 30 days long? You may have heard about the idea that new habits need 21 days to become established. Unfortunately though, this is a bit of a myth. The actual number is much longer, and depends on a lot of different factors.

The actual number would be 66 days  at least according to science. However, it can be shorter or longer depending on the individual – and the habit.

Thus, the obvious question would be: why not a 66 day bootcamp? The easy answer: it is really about getting started on a journey – not all at once, nor infinite; but a little bit every day. This is why the bootcamp is broken down into 30 days. But apart from this, there are actually a few good reasons for this:

1. Putting some time aside for a month to kickstart a new “you” is a pretty good start. Doesn’t a little over two months sound quite scary? There are some books out there that ask you to commit three months to learn and apply mindfulness. They do have a good point: mindfulness gets better with practice. But three months is a long time. Some others promise mindfulness in 7 days… very short to really explore the concept and apply it. And so the bootcamp tries to strike a balance here: something you can commit to but that is not overly long and complex.

2. You don’t need to follow the 30 days – every day. I’m asking you to commit to following the program, because I really think it will give you the essential tools. However, you can and should follow at your own pace: if you feel like redoing a day – do so. Maybe you feel like going back to something you have done a few days back… no problem. I’m asking you not to skip ahead, but be gentle to yourself. This is not a race against each other, it is all about you.

3. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect the first time round. If you feel like it, try a daily exercise again. Or maybe just move to the next day, revisit the exercise at a later day. Sometimes some insights grow with time and practice.

4. It’s not about 21, 30 or 66 days… I’m not hoping and not promising you that after 30 days you will be stress free, eternally happy and enjoying life forever. The bootcamp is the start of a journey… and I hope that after one month you feel it is worthwhile investing a little time each day into yourself. Wether it is by revisiting some of the bootcamp exercises, or exploring some of the areas covered in the bootcamp more in depth – maybe as part of the follow up programs. The program is ultimately all about you – and only you can decide what you want to explore and experience.

In short, I hope the bootcamp is a start of journey: a journey together, where everyone can explore themselves, as individuals and part of the urbangay community.

Things I’ve learned from staying in an AirBnB

Since I moved to Lisbon a few weeks ago I lived in an AirBnb/shared apartment. Basically, it is a large apartment which is subdivided into three bedrooms and my two rooms (one bed room and a “writing room”). The owner lets out the three bedrooms via AirBnB, pretty much exclusively to short term visitors – so mostly they stay two days or so in Lisbon to explore the city. That makes it a really interesting place to “people watch”… So here are a few of the things I encountered or learned….

  1. Some people are there – but never to be seen
    This probably falls into the “strange guest” category…  one girl rented one of the rooms for almost a week. During the entire time you could hear her in the room… but she was never to be seen, nor seemed to venture out much (if at all). I only ran into her when she left the place, with her bags packed… I asked her a little cynically if she enjoyed Lisbon, and she said “yes, very much”. I’m still puzzled what she was doing here, and I really wonder how her stay in Lisbon has been…
  2. Some people bring food from home…
    OK, there are things I totally understand one can’t live without (yes, I sort of like Vegemite if you want an example). That said, I’ve been quite frequently confused by the food some people seemingly bring with them when traveling: In just a bit over a month I have encountered sugar from Brazil, Dutch cheese bought in Germany … and something that looked like bacon from I think Poland (which ironically made it’s appearance in the fridge in a sealed packet – and then also disappeared without being cooked as far as I can tell).
  3. Some people love to party… some people stay in
    … but it’s not whom I thought it would be. I’m not really able to generalise here, but for a three days there was this a young couple living next to me (my guess would be very early 20s). Every day, they would go out at 8 or so in the morning, and return together around 5. No, they weren’t working, they told me every day what they had seen. Then, at 6:30 they cooked dinner, ate – and spend the rest of the evening in their room.  Similarly, two guys stayed here… I don’t think they were gay (though my gaydar is fabulously crap) – and they did the same. Just that they cut down the time spending visiting Lisbon, and spend more time watching movies in the evening (quite loudly), drinking beer and eating pizza. If they would have appeared to be romantically involved, fair enough… but I really don’t think so (or maybe that was why the movies were so loud?)….
    On the other hand … One couple seemed to have a fantastic time: My room is next to the main door, and I heard them coming in nearly every morning while I was in bed debating with myself if it was a good idea to get up …  they would then seemingly go to bed, though not before engaging in some fairly active pre-sleep exercises, then sleep and next day repeat what they did. On the third day I eventually bumped into them: let’s just say they were at least 20 years older than me. Just goes to show… you can have a party at any age! (#lifegoals!)
  4. Some people adore talking, asking and interacting…
    Talking about wide variety of people: One girl seemed to assume that, presumably because I has just moved here, I was the fountain of all knowledge… I have no evidence she was actually listening at the door of her room for when I’d pass, but a few times, she just opened the door at exactly that moment when I was passing to go to kitchen or bath,…and immediately asked if I knew a local bakery, a restaurant for tonight, the time table of the streetcar, how to get to Estoril… Good news, I knew most of it. But I got a little weary of passing the door (as discussing ways to go to Estoril with just a towel on isn’t my idea of morning fun…)
  5. and some just say a single word…
    An other day, I came into the kitchen and there was a guy there whom I assume must have just moved in. So I said: “Hi! I’m Stephan”. His response was: “ah” – and he left the kitchen. I saw him once or twice after, and he never greeted back…

Well,… so far this has really been quite entertaining to live with so many people coming and going around me. I’m planning on staying a little longer depending on when I have found a good place for me… so let’s see what other curiosities may come up. So far, I have to say, it almost beats sitting in a café and watching the world go by – especially as, as a fellow resident, it is quite easy to talk to the people (well, to some anyway) . It’s almost a shame I haven’t got a fiction book contract lined up..

It’s complicated: Seven easy ways to embrace uncertainty

When making radical changes to your life, such as redesigning your life, it is pretty normal to think that things will be complicated, maybe even so complicated, that it is best not to proceed. Those challenges come both from moving out of your comfort zone as well may come from others who see you making changes they might want to make (but think they are too complicated to do). It is easy at this point to fall into the trap and abandon the plan, coming up with obstacles and focusing on all the negative aspects.

After I had “designed” my vision of my future, I was often tempted to abandon the ideas simply because things felt complicated (really falling at the first hurdle). That is not to say it will always be easy (it won’t), but remember, the result will ultimately be a what you really wanted, because you are moving ahead strategically and focusing on achieving the ultimate goal: your dream vision.

When “complicated” struck me, feeling like the road ahead was like a wild mountain road, with many curves and complications …. I used the following seven ways to overcome my thinking: immediately challenging the “too complicated” idea – and avoiding mentally making lists why it won’t work, will fail etc – and therefore focusing my ideas on achieving the outcome (rather than running the risk of sabotaging it).

Throughout the process I learned that the “ it is too complicated thinking” is part and parcel of making changes  – it is a sign of progress. The problem is, that if you give in to the “complicated”, you will stand still at best – or setting yourself up for self-sabotage at worst. So taking “complicated” at face value is probably the most severe mistake you can make – the only way forward is to “challenge the complicated”. And often, it turns our a lot less complicated than you think.

To challenge the “complicated” thinking, here is what worked for me:

– Is it rational or irrational?
Often I found asking this simple question stopped the complicated thinking in the tracks: Many thoughts about things being complicated were pretty irrational – or alternatively, I could do something to make sure the complication was contained. For example, one night I imaged how complicated it would be to go flat hunting when not really speaking the language. I’m not sure why this particular scenario played out on my mind, but that was what it was. Of course, I could quickly challenge this by remembering how I flat hunted when moving to Spain: at the time I didn’t speak any Spanish. But after a bit of work I secured one of the nicest flats I have ever lived in. The point is, of course, that the fear is irrational: many people move without speaking the language – but that doesn’t mean they can’t do it or end up living under a bridge – or, worst, should give up on their dream. But just to be on the safe side, the next day, I also decided to look for a Portuguese course. Of course, speaking the language at least a bit will also be hand in other areas. Most importantly though, I moved forward, and didn’t let the “it will be complicated” ruin my plan.

– Best and worse case scenario
Rationally sitting down and working out the worst case and best case scenario also proved very helpful for me: Simply weighing up the potential benefits of achieving even just the main parts of my vision vs the potential worst case scenario quickly alleviated any thinking of “this is too complicated”.
In my case, it was simply a case of thinking through what would happen: It was easy to dramatically think about it in terms of “total failure” at this point. Don’t! Remember to be rational: In the worst case scenario, I would have spent a year or two taking time “out”, learning a new language, making friends and living in a place I like – before doing something else. Doesn’t sound quite so bad now, does it?
In the best case scenario… I will achieve all my goals, make my vision reality and live the life I want to live. Taking it like that meant that even in the worst case scenario I was still gaining from making the changes – so there was really no need to hold back.

– Give yourself some easy wins
Remember the planning tips from the “Lists and SWIPES: Getting towards a clear vision and designing goals” post?  … here those plans came in particularly handy: Because the tools allowed me to visualise and work on “easy wins” first, which meant I started moving towards my goal, I managed to gain more confidence. In fact, some of those wins can really boost your confidence.
Here is an example of an easy win: One of the seemingly complicated problems was simply getting a bank account sorted. Not really complicated at all with hindsight – but I felt it was complicated. Mostly, because in Portugal you need a tax number to open it. This felt like a massive task: going to a tax office, registering etc etc … I don’t know about you, but I have a chronic fear of anything to do with tax offices, officials and that sort of thing (mostly unfounded, I know!). You can imagine how quickly this would have turned into a massive list to stop everything. Eventually, during my stay in July, I decided to take the issue, and after morning class went directly to the tax office to register. Of course, I had imagined it to be massively complicated, and having to deal with a grumpy tax inspector and so forth… but actually it wasn’t half as bad. I also challenged myself to do this in Portuguese to give myself an easy win: So I prepared what I would say, looked up the words I’d likely need before hand – and walked into the tax office to get the number. As you can imagine, none of my “complicated issues” actually came true: There wasn’t a massive queue, instead, I was in and out within 30 minutes. The person wasn’t a grumpy person, but a really friendly woman who loved the fact that I made an effort to speak Portuguese (even if that meant pointing and gesticulating at some points)… and actually, when I cam out I felt massively more confident: not just had I “beaten” my fear of officials, I also proved that I could do it in Portuguese!

– Remind yourself of the goal
Another strategy was to simply visualise the goal again… and ask myself the question: will this simple “complication” really stop me? Keeping fixated on the goal helped enormously to put things into perspective, especially when combined with one of the other tools above. Consulting the lists again, the vision and imagining the outcome, in full “technicolour” … how it would feel, smell and sound like when I succeeded quickly alleviated any “it is too complicated” feeling.

– Immerse yourself
It is generally true that what is different is often seen with suspicion. Even if that “different” happens to be what you really want. Just think of a dish you don’t know what it is: many people would rather forgo the chance that to taste it, than to try it. Obviously, moving to a different country means a lot of “unknown dishes” – and not just in a culinary sense. The strategy I came up with was simply to introduce more and more things from the “unknown” into my life: I started reading the English newspapers published in Portugal. I started to look for Portuguese restaurants… listen to Portuguese radio stations. All of these were simple steps that made the unknown much more familiar – even before I was there.

– Talk
I also benefited a lot by talking to other people about the plans I had made: it actually had effects on three levels: Firstly it helped to clarify my own vision as I was explaining it to my friends and family. Secondly, it meant that often I discovered how many people had friends or stories which contributed to helping me refine the ideas and options. One friend, for example, made a similar move a few years back: talking to him was really helpful. Thirdly, by talking about it, I meant that I was increasingly publicly committing myself to doing it – making it more difficult to stop the process.
Also remember to talk to other people openly about your plan – and what it means for them: For example, some of my friends appeared fearful that moving would mean I would never see them again. I immediately challenged that by inviting them to come and visit me in Lisbon. For others, the move meant potential delays: For example, I have some co-authors and my publisher who are waiting for manuscripts. Talking openly to them allowed us to establish a time plan together and put their mind to rest, that, although I’m moving, I will still follow through on my commitments.

– Allow yourself time, but don’t stand still
An other important point was to allow myself a balanced time frame: making major life changes doesn’t happen overnight. But equally they don’t happen if you put them off. Sometimes time works in your favour: for example, I needed to give four months notice to quit my job. That time helped me to immerse myself, and prepare for the move etc… It would maybe have been easy to stand still at this point and simply work out the notice period, then start the move in quiet and… you can imagine. The trick for me was to keep the pressure strong enough to keep me moving forward: that meant working out the notice period while intensifying the language learning, moving preparations and so forth. In the end, that meant I never stood still waiting for something to happen – but I was continually moving towards my goal.

In the end, these strategies worked miracles for me to avoid thinking “it is too complicated” – and simply retreating into my comfort zone. I hope they are helpful for you when you are making important changes to your life. Remember: it always feels easier to to the same thing over and over again, to stay in your comfort zone – and all else will always feel complicated. But in the end, you can’t win by standing still. Accepting that feeling of complication is key to getting ahead. In fact, there isn’t anything new that isn’t at least a bit “complicated”. So embrace complications … and you’ll see just how many complications are just like hot air.

2 weeks to go…

The last two weeks before moving to Lisbon now have officially begun… I’m so excited! As a really great friend of mine is getting married (hey! All the best to you!!) in Germany, I managed to sneak in two weeks of almost rest and relaxation in my home town. Actually, this is a brilliant little break: It allows me to have the space to focus on what I’ll do in Portugal, develop some very exciting projects that I have lined up – and also to reflect back on how I used the [more or less] last twelve months to dramatically shift my life and develop it in the direction I want to grow in. I’m really grateful for this, and, if I think back, it is amazing how things have moved on.

Of course, around this time last year, I started my own “happiness” project  (loosely based on Gretchen Rubin’s happiness project ideas). This certainly helped me focus a lot, and turn things around. I still think it is a great book – and one that can help a lot of people turn their life around by focusing on one aspect at a time. Of course, the key is to develop the areas which need development – and then focus one month on developing each area and develop new habits. If you haven’t read her work, please do. You don’t need to be depressed or even sad to use her ideas – even if you are quite content at the moment, using her techniques is bound to bring more happiness into your life.

I know I haven’t been my most productive last year…, publishing only a few articles. But things are also picking up there – and I’m really looking forward to my new environment and freedom to fully focus on the projects I really want to focus on. I’m just starting to work on my 8th book, a new edition of another book needs to be delivered to the publishers early next year – and I still have a lot of articles in the pipeline somewhere. So I’m really excited about finding the space and freedom to focus on these soon.

Alongside the books, I’m also focusing on developing a training and personal development/coaching business (more about that in future posts!). The last few months I have been starting to work on the concepts and ideas that will guide the development – and importantly, help people achieve more of what they want. When I worked as an academic, I ran quite number of executive classes – and I really enjoyed them immensely: Not least, because they were both massively challenging and tremendously rewarding at the same time. After a weekend of working with high powered executives, I always left the class room totally exhausted, but also intensely satisfied. So picking up from there and developing more in that area seems … well. I guess both positively challenging as well as potentially hugely rewarding.

So… there we go… With just two weeks to go, I can’t say how amazingly grateful and happy I’m to be in this space at this moment. And helped by a lot of amazing friends and colleagues who made this all possible over the last year or so. Thank you to all of you – and hopefully see you in Lisbon very soon!

[Picture: My temporary “office” at my parent’s home in Germany. I love the view over the garden – and the sunshine we are having in Germany at the moment. Almost feels like southern Europe!]

Learning Portuguese…in London and Lisbon

IMG_6848One of the things that I love about moving to Portugal is that it gives me the opportunity to learn another language. Maybe I’m a bit of a language nerd, but having lived abroad most of my adult life, I think knowing at least some basics is absolutely necessary to integrate into society – at least if you are planning to speak to people. Since I decided to move, I have, therefore, been starting to get to grips with Portuguese. On a personal level, it has been easy in parts (I speak Spanish reasonably well) – but on other levels it is pretty complicated (“How is this pronounced  again??”).  Anyway… here is a bit of a lowdown of my “language journey” – and hopefully some useful hints if you decide to learn the “lusophone” language (geek talk for Portuguese). Continue reading “Learning Portuguese…in London and Lisbon”

Decluttering … Moving Madness

I haven’t moved in a while. During my twenties, I moved every two or three years to a different country. So I guess things just got totally organised every now and then. But since settling down in London in my late 20s, I only moved from a smaller place to larger place…

Letters. Lots of letter.

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… and at the time I really didn’t clean stuff out. I know the claims supporting clearing out and decluttering… and I liked the idea for a while. But seriously… just thinking about it made me prefer washing dishes.

Now the good thing is that I will move. No buts, no ifs. So… things have to get tidied up. And I don’t want to move to Portugal with a van-load of stuff. Now for many things this is pretty easy. After a few days of doing it, … I can say throwing out stuff is quite easy. Yes… I still had some jeans from the 1990s, … and those are now on the way to a charity shop. Books… similar. Yes, they were amazing to read at the time. But really, text books from the 1990s about internet are not the most useful stuff nowadays. So… charity shop, too.

But now I have hit a bit of an obstacle. I have a massive box full of stuff from exes. All sorts of stuff. Love letters, letters when we were fighting (we wrote letters!), small things, emotional things. To be honest, I hadn’t looked at them for quite a while. But… it feels strange to think about letting go of them. In a way, they tell stories about the journey I made, or we made (whomever it was at the time).

As a friend of mine is also moving, I asked him for advice. My first instinct was to clear it all out. I thought, what is the point of bringing all this baggage into my “new life”. In some ways, that makes sense, I guess. But he actually came up with a much neater suggestion: Leave it to last. Then take each item and ask yourself: Does it remind you of something happy? If so… keep it. If you don’t remember, don’t really know – or especially if not, throw it away. I think it sounds like the most sensible solution.

Yes, going through the piles and piles of letters and putting them all in one place, small notes and cards brought back some good memories. And also some bad. At the moment, they now sit, as a big pile, in my living room. And I will keep just a few of the items (mostly letters), ones that remind me of a person in a positive way. And all the others,… well… it is time to make space for some new experiences in my life.

Hong Kong… one last time

I’m still a few months away from my leaving date, and therefore I’m still “wrapping up” a lot of things on the work front. Probably the one I was looking forward to with most trepidation was a final trip to Hong Kong…

Moody weather over #hongkong #harbour

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So, last week it came: time to go to Hong Kong for one last time. Before, Hong Kong had been pretty much my second home: I went there four times a year, sometimes staying as much as a month. The constant distance from the now ex-BF1 was probably one of the reasons things never got resolved more quickly – as it was just to easy to “escape” to the other home, and ignore issues at home. And Hong Kong was also where the eventually increasingly toxic relationship with, also now ex-BF2 started. And while things with BF1 are amicable and we have settled into a being friendly,  good friends-like routine, things with BF2 have ended quite badly, and so the mere thought of being in the same city filled me with horror.

Of course, it was not just the though and memories related to BF2, but also just  the “one last visit” thought that made me feel quite uneasy to go onto this last trip. The trip was pretty short, just a few days, and the agenda was pretty packed – leaving very little room for personal things – or even time alone. Maybe that was the best thing that could happen.

On the day I arrived, I had a few hours to myself … and I struggled somewhat with all the memories connected to the place – including some of the still somewhat unresolved feelings towards BF2. The next day was a lot better… as I met a friend for dimsum in the morning, and then had meetings for the rest of the afternoon.

The day after I had the morning off, before heading out for lunch with my soon-to-be ex-“local” colleagues. Once I met them, things became amazing: They really made sure I had the best possible “good bye”: I really can’t express how sweet they were.

Just before catching the plane home came another surprise: A friend friend, who had been out of town, waited for me at the airport. It was quite unexpected to see him. We still had a few hours to spare before my flight – and although we are both not particularly spontaneous, we decided to head back to town and have dinner together. This also gave us some time to talk and was really something I was amazed about. I hadn’t really known him that well before, and we only  superficially kept in contact via WhatsApp. I guess we both liked each other … but on previous visits never really managed to get to know one and other. So spending more time talking was certainly a big treat. He is one of these people that came across to me as amazingly nice, and I wished I would know better. So maybe we created a bit of a foundation with our dinner together.

Of course, as I’m writing this, I’m back in London. And looking back, I think it was without doubt the best visit I ever had to Hong Kong. Yes, it was a bit rushed. But maybe because everyone tried to make it memorable, it certainly will remain a good memory to have of Hong Kong, and the time I used to go there regularly. Of course, how the personal contacts will develop (or not) over the next few years remains to be seen… Looking back, I seem to have always retained few friends from all the places I stayed in for a while, some of whom have become very close friends. Others have faded away – or even disappeared completely. So it is hard to tell how things will work out with all the people I know in Hong Kong. That said… I will certainly remember the last trip and the fun we had during those few days.