Untranslatable sentences: echao p’alante

Today, in our section on untranslatable sentences, we´ll talk about a very popular colloquial expression from Spain: ser muy echao p’alante.

The Collins Dictionary provides three translation examples for es muy echado p’alante, I hope they make sense to those of you reading this in English:

  • He’s very pushy
  • He’s very forward
  • He’s not backward in coming forward (informal)

To me, being echao p’alante means being brave, in the sense of daring to take the initiative and taking action when faced with certain situations, without fearing ridicule (or maybe fearing it a bit, but without letting that condition them).

Little girl riding on a horse with her hands in the air, seen from behind

My friend Bárbara comes to mind; she served as chairperson of our primary school's Parents' Association for several years, and I remember her one day explaining to me how, every time there was a call for volunteers to organize an event for the school, there were always certain people who threw themselves forward (echar literally means throw), and others who threw themselves back.

I was one of those parents who signed up to help in whichever way I could, but mainly to help, not to lead. I was not the one taking the initiative, I was happy following somebody else's lead. And that's a pattern that's been repeating year after year in many aspects of my life.

So in short, I am not (and never was) particularly echá p’alante... The good news is that now I know that that's part of my personality, more specifically part of my instinctual biases, as opposed to a weakness of character that I have to get over.

According to Mario Sikora's instinctual biases theory, which is taught in conjunction with the Enneagram, our natural instincts as human beings can be grouped in three main domains, the preserving domain (striving for survival, looking after our basic needs, looking after our close ones), the navigating domain (sense of belonging to a group, social relationships with our peers), and transmitting domain (reproduction, spreading our message, leaving a legacy in this world).

Each person tends to have the instincts from one of the three domains a lot more developed than the others, with a secondary domain, and then a third domain that's far less developed. And broadly speaking, we could say that individuals who are strongest in the transmitting domain tend to push forward, given their instinctive desire to transmit, to convince, to make progress. In contrast, individuals who are strongest in the preserving domain tend to pull back more, to try and protect ourselves by keeping a low profile. Individuals who are strongest at the navigating (or social) domain tend to seek balance between what they give and what they receive, expecting reciprocity.

An important point I would like to highlight is that no instinctual bias is better than any other: we need them all, because each of them relates to a particular set of capabilities and strengths, and they all balance each other within the group. We need preservers, navigators and transmitters in our tribe.

For me personally, learning about instinctual biases is helping me a lot to understand my own reactions and behaviours, as well as those of others. But that doesn't mean we can use them as an excuse to continue with our same old ways. On the contrary, it makes us realize that instead of forcing ourselves to do things that are radically against our instincts, we can work with them to our advantage, designing strategies that get us the results we want in a more natural and adaptive way.

In my case, given that my instinctual bias is in the preserving domain, I know I have to pay special attention to the topic of taking the initiative and stepping into action, because those things don't tend to come naturally to me. I use tricks to motivate myself and make progress step by step, without getting exhausted or overwhelmed. And what helps me the most? Phrases like these:

If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.
If you don't ask, the answer is always no.
If you don't step forward, you're always in the same place.

Nora Roberts

What about you? Are you one of those who throw themselves forward, or back? What motivation would be strong enough to push you forward?


Father's day was celebrated today in Spain, as always, coinciding with the festivity of Saint Joseph. And just by pure coincidence, today in Ireland what was celebrated was Mother's day, as it's the fourth Sunday of Lent.

The dates vary from country to country, but the intention is the same: honouring each of our parents in a special way, at least once a year. Thanking them for everything they've done for us, everything they've given us, starting with the gift of life.

A little child's hand grabbing an adult's hand

It's interesting to see how our relationship with our parents evolves over time, we go through different stages... Let me paste here one of the many versions there are out there of how a child sees their dad at different ages:

  • At age 4: My daddy can do anything.
  • At age 7: My dad knows a lot, a whole lot.
  • At age 8: My Father doesn`t know quite everything...
  • At age 12: Oh, well, naturally Father doesn`t know that, either.
  • At age 14: Father? Hopelessly old-fashioned.
  • At age 21: Oh, that man is out-of-date. What did you expect?
  • At age 25: He knows a little bit about it, but not much.
  • At age 30: Maybe we ought to find out what Dad thinks.
  • At age 35: A little patience. Let`s get Dad`s assessment before we do anything.
  • At age 50: I wonder what Dad would have thought about that. He was pretty smart.
  • At age 60: My dad knew absolutely everything!
  • At age 65: I`d give anything if Dad were here so I could talk this over with him. I really miss that man.

What do you think? Do you agree? And we could say the same thing about mothers. If you want proof, you only need to ask your kids what they think of you, especially if they´re teenagers 🙂

By the way, while we´re on the topic of honouring our elders, let´s also take the opportunity to remember our parents´ parents, and the parents of their parents... What I mean to say is, let´s remember where we come from, and celebrate our ancestors, for it´s thanks to all of them that we are here today, even if there are parts of our family history that we don´t particularly like. They all did their best with the knowledge and resources that they had.

From here, I'd like to wish health and happiness to all fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers. And wish for us all not to wait until they´re gone to realize how much we can learn from them.

Starry night

I can´t say that painting is a topic that I´ve always been interested in, or that I´ve dedicated much time to it during my life, but it is true that there are certain works of art that I find especially beautiful (or interesting), and that I´m really fond of.

Among them, there are several pieces by Vincent Van Gogh.

I think this is mainly thanks to a coffee shop that existed years ago in Madrid´s city centre, Van Gogh Café, which my family and I used to visit very frequently, given its lovely atmosphere,, the superb food they offered and the fact that it was located just next to my parents´ apartment. I have very good memories of going to Van Gogh´s when the girls were still little, especially with my parents at lunchtime, and sometimes with the additional company of some of my siblings, siblings in law or nephews and nieces, whoever happened to be in Madrid on those dates. And on a couple of occasions, we also had big celebrations, with the whole family gathered together 🙂

The café was of course decorated with all things Van Gogh, with copies of his best known paintings scattered all over the walls, paper placemats printed with a collection of his many self portraits, and even a reconstruction of one of his scenes, with a real table and two chairs placed next to a big front window. Unfortunately, that venue closed down a few years ago, but the simple style and the vibrant colours of Van Gogh´s paintings stayed in my memory since then.

That´s why I was so happy when I recently got to see some of his paintings at the National Gallery, in London, including the one with the sunflowers (or to be precise, one of them, as he painted several canvases with the sunflowers theme), the chair you can see above, and this landscape with clouds that I didn´t remember seeing before, and that I also found quite cool:

Pero el que se lleva la palma en mi opinión es el de la noche estrellada, a la que hasta Lego le ha hecho un homenaje, y que también es uno de los cuadros estrella de la exposición interactiva (o como la llaman oficialmente, «la experiencia inmersiva») que hemos visitado este fin de semana en Dublín:

I loved learning a bit more about the life and works of this great painter, who was gifted with very deep sensitivity and an extraordinary talent, both of which sadly came together with a great deal of suffering, as it often happens in the world or artists.

There were several of his quotes that I found really inspiring, like for example:

«Si oyes una voz dentro de ti que dice que no puedes pintar, entonces adelante, pinta,,y esa voz será silenciada.»

«Las grandes cosas no se consiguen por impulso, sino a base de ir enlazando una serie de pequeñas cosas»

«El corazón del hombre se parece mucho al mar: tiene sus tormentas, tiene sus mareas, y en sus profundidades también hay perlas.»

«¿Qué sería de la vida si no tuvéramos el coraje de intentar nada?

Y también me acordé de que hace años alguien le compuso una canción preciosa, «Vincent», aquí la tenéis con la letra en inglés y en español:

Change of plans

How good are you at planning? And how well do you cope when there´s a change of plans?'

Tablet device showing a weekly planner page, and a hand holding an electronic pen, hovering over the screen

Yo no es que lo planifique todo al detalle precisamente, pero sí que me gusta saber a grandes rasgos lo que voy a hacer en un determinado día, o en una determinada semana, y así poder ir «tachando tareas» de mi lista, y sentirme útil. Pues bien, este fin de semana, tanto el sábado como el domingo, han surgido cosas que me han cambiado los planes sobre la marcha.

OK, truth be told, at least one of those things was due to my own forgetfulness: I had agreed to meet some friends for lunch and a walk today, and I had completely forgotten, because I never added the event to my calendar. When I say calendar I mean Google Calendar, which in the last couple of years has become my best friend, I use it all the time, And I'm not sure whether I should be thankful or put the blame on it, because nowadays, if something is not on the calendar... It simply slips my mind, as it happened today.

Thankfully (and maybe thanks to telepathy), today I happened to check my phone at around the time we had agreed to meet, and thanks to seeing messages from my friends, I remembered and was able to join them. But on the other hand, several of the tasks I had lined up for this weekend ended up not being done, so I'm going to have to squeeze them into the next few days. What was of course not negotiable was this weekly post, which, once again and despite all my good intentions, I'm writing in the middle of the night 😀

Anyway, I could give you multiple explanations (a.k.a., excuses) of how those sudden events altered my plans, and how I wasn't able to achieve everything I wanted to get done... Or I could admit that the to-do list I had to begin with was not realistic for a single weekend, as it often happens to me.

And that reminds me of a quote I heard or read somewhere, years ago, which also came up the other day as I was talking to a friend: we human beings tend to overestimate what we can achieve in the short term, and in contrast, underestimate what we can achieve in the long term.

Now, researching this online, I found similar quotes attributed to both Bill Gates and Tony Robbins, referring to what one can achieve in one year as opposed to ten or twenty years... I'd say the same can also be applied to shorter timelines, like a week or two as opposed to a whole year.

Y curiosamente, también he encontrado una ley paralela para la tecnología, la ley de Amara, que sostiene que «en la mayoría de los casos, los seres humanos tendemos a sobrestimar los efectos de una nueva tecnología a corto plazo, mientras que subestimamos su efecto a largo plazo».

So it's clear that, in general, estimating in the short term is not something we as people are good at, even if we think we are. And anyone who works in software development or any related field will be able to confirm how difficult it is to determine in advance the effort and duration of a certain task.

I believe this is also very relevant to any personal development or coaching process: quite often we define a goal for ourselves to achieve in a certain period of time, come up with an action plan that's too optimistic, and then feel down for not being able to stick to it, or for not achieving the goal as it was defined at the start. But all of that in reality is part of the process: the important thing is that thanks to the goal we get to make progress (even if it's not at the speed we would like), and we also get to learn, for everything that happens along the way are results that give us new information. And once we have that information, we can adjust the plan in order to achieve the goal, or sometimes we may realize that the goal itself is what needs to change.

Otra frase bastante famosa, esta vez de Woody Allen, dice que «si quieres hacer reír a Dios, cuéntale tus planes», y yo me identifico totalmente con ella, seguro que muchos de vosotros también. Así que, sabiendo ya que así es como funciona la vida, propongo que disfrutemos haciendo planes y averiguando adónde nos llevan 🙂