Saint John´s Eve

On the night of June 23rd, many towns and villages across Spain celebrate Saint John´s Eve. It´s the Christian version of the summer solstice celebration in the northern hemisphere, and like many other ancestral festivals, involves fire as its crucial element.

outdoor fireplace during nighttime

I personally haven´t had the pleasure of enjoying a big bonfire celebration at the beach (my hometown doesn´t officially celebrate St. John, and also we´re not close to the seaside), although I do remember getting together with friends to mark that night in our own way… One year we even had a queimada with its incantation spell and everything, thanks to Víctor, our Galician mate :-)

Of course, we had our own mini version of the bonfire, improvised in a bowl or an ashtray, over which we jumped three times in order to attract good luck. And in that mini bonfire, we used to burn a piece of paper, which if I remember correctly, had three things written on it: something we were grateful for, something we no longer wanted in our life, and something we did want to happen to us or receive.

It was a magic night, full of possibilities.

I always liked the idea of taking this opportunity to reflect a little on our life: evaluate where we are, decide what we want, and perform a ritual so that we can feel the magic of change. The thing is that sometimes we forget that this magic is not only in the “universe”, in that abstract concept at which we throw all our wishes… this magic is also inside of us, because we are the centre of our own universe. So writing down our wishes as one writes a letter to Santa is not enough, we also need to do our part for the whole thing to work :-) 

This year I suggest that you do a little extra reflecting in front of the bonfire, and write down four things instead of three: something you are grateful for, something you no longer want in your life, something you do want to happen to you or receive, and something you´re going to start doing now to contribute to your desired change.

Fridge magnets

I´m not sure how the tradition first started, but it was a long time ago: in my family, whoever goes on a holiday usually brings back fridge magnets as souvenirs. It may seem silly, but I think it´s a nice gesture... Every time I visit my parents or siblings, I spend a good while inspecting their fridge magnets, going over the old familiar ones, and looking for new additions. I have contributed with a few of them myself, of course. And sometimes the same magnet can be found in several houses, in either the same or a slightly different version.

That is perhaps why I have a soft spot for fridge magnets, which together with my fondness of magnetic whiteboards, results in a considerable amount of magnets at home :-)

Some of them I keep always on display, some others I rotate over time. Some of them are presents from family or friends, while others are presents to myself! Today I´m leaving these three here for you, with their cool messages:

Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful
Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do, but it won´t get you anywhere
I literally love literature
  • Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.
  • Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do, but it won´t get you anywhere.
  • I literally love literature.

Balancing

Has it ever happened to you that the day feels too short? That it's nighttime already, and you still have a list of things you would like to do? And that you find it difficult to choose what to do today and what to leave for another day?

That's me at this very moment :-)

notebook with four blank tasks for today

Should I...

  • Do some yoga and stretching, to relax and feel better physically?
  • Spend some time studying for my course, so that I'm not rushing at the end?
  • Write another blog post, and keep up the momentum?
  • Or go to bed already, so that I'm fully rested tomorrow?

Those are the four options coming to my mind right now, and that's without counting the "mandatory" tasks, which are already done for today (those ones I've learned there's no point in postponing - the sooner you get rid of them, the better, and the less stress).

As you can imagine, today I opted for writing this post, not without pondering over it for a good while as I finished other tasks... Sometimes I find it a bit difficult to decide: on the one hand, knowing myself, I don't want to fall into the trap of always choosing the easy option, and leaving the one that involves more effort to the last minute. On the other hand, I don't want to dedicate too many hours to a single thing when I also want to make progress on others. And also, I know that as soon as I start doing any of them, time will very likely fly...

So what can I do? Well, keep balancing as best as I can.

The way I've figured out for the moment is setting up a weekly plan. On Sundays, I write down a task list for the following week, including X yoga sessions (replaceable by walks on days when the weather is nice), the course exercises, the blog posts, etc. I'm not assigning specific days for each task, I simply get to them as I see fit during the week, and tick them off (and oh how good it feels to tick off a task!).

That way I add more intention to my days, I make progress in all the areas I want, I can adapt to unforeseen events or take a break if I need to one day, and given that there's usually a bit more free time during the weekend, there's also the chance to finish certain things if I haven't been able to finish them earlier.

So far this my second week using this system, and of course I know that I won't always complete everything. But I think it's very useful as a reference, and it helps me to keep making progress, which at the end of the day is what matters most.

And you? How do you find balance?

Peace and good

Yesterday, as I was searching around the house looking for something else, I found this:

Wooden pendant in the shape of a Tau (franciscan symbol)

My Tau, so many good memories...

Tau is a Greek letter, equivalent to T in Latin, and it's also a Franciscan symbol. According to an explanation I heard once and really liked, being one of the last letters of the alphabet, Tau symbolizes the spirit of simplicity and service to others that St. Francis of Assisi had.

My friend Bárbara was telling me the other day that deep down, all religions and spiritual teachings end up taking us to the same truths, which we can arrive at through many different paths… In my particular case, I grew up in a Catholic environment; that's my family tradition and a big portion of my social background, so it was through Catholicism that I took my first steps in the journey of spirituality.

Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, I attended a school run by Franciscan friars, and I have very special memories of the religious celebrations, prayer groups, retreats and pilgrimages I participated in with them, also later on during my college years. Above all, I loved the feeling of joy and peace that the friars conveyed, their spirit of prayer and service, and their willingness to roll up their sleeves and lend a helping hand for whatever it was that needed to be done.

Then as years went by, I started leaning more towards secular spirituality, which is where I am nowadays, but I'm totally convinced that the background is really the same, the Spirit is really the same, only with a different name. And I can't help thinking that for example the mantras and meditations that are practiced in yoga very closely resemble the meditative chants at those Easter celebrations in the convent of El Palancar.

Today I want to share with you a couple of pearls of wisdom from St Francis. First, a prayer that to me is as simple as it is beautiful:

Señor, haz de mí un instrumento de tu paz.
Donde haya odio, ponga yo amor,
Donde haya ofensa, ponga yo perdón,
Donde haya discordia, ponga yo armonía,
Donde haya error, ponga yo verdad,
Donde haya duda, ponga yo la fe,
Donde haya desesperación, ponga yo esperanza,
Donde haya tinieblas, ponga yo la luz,
Donde haya tristeza, ponga yo alegría.
Maestro, que no me empeñe tanto
en ser consolado como en consolar,
En ser comprendido como en comprender,
En ser amado como en amar
Porque dando se recibe,
Olvidando se encuentra,
Perdonando se es perdonado,
Y muriendo se resucita a la Vida Eterna.

And second, a phrase I discovered recently that is also attributed to him:

Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

St. Francis of Assisi

Being expert enough

Continuing with our art tour of the posters around my house, today I want to share with you this other manifesto. It used to inspire me some time ago, and it´s now resonating strongly with me again. I feel that, after spending over a year in a state of hibernation, the time is finally here to go out into the world again, to practice everything I´ve learned.

And what have I learnt? Among other things, that it´s not a question of having all the answers (or all the knowledge, or all the experience), but of having a genuine interest and willingness to learn, and above all, of being confident that you can do it, and that you´re going to do it well enough.

The EXPERT ENOUGH manifesto. We are all capable of so much more than we think. Most people never scratch the surface of what they´re capable of. Expertise is relative. Expertise doesn´t come from a piece of paper. Life is richest when we become good at a lot of different things. "Know'it'all", "Jack of all trades" and "Renaissance man" are compliments. LIFE IS AN EXPERIMENT. You don't have to wait for permission, and you don't need anyone else to grant you status. It's not about being the world's greatest expert. It's about being expert enough to accomplish your goals. The more you use creativity, the more you get. Brilliance lies within each of us. Go now. Live. Play. Explore. FOLLOW YOUR PASSION. Learn more. Do more. Be more.

Unfortunately there´s no Spanish version for this one, and the original website seems to have disappeared, but I can translate it here:

The EXPERT ENOUGH manifesto.
We are all capable of so much more than we think. 
Most people never scratch the surface of what they´re capable of. 
Expertise is relative. Expertise doesn´t come from a piece of paper. 
Life is richest when we become good at a lot of different things. 
"Know'it'all", "Jack of all trades" and "Renaissance man" are compliments.
LIFE IS AN EXPERIMENT. 
You don't have to wait for permission, and you don't need anyone else to grant you status. 
It's not about being the world's greatest expert. 
It's about being expert enough to accomplish your goals. 
The more you use creativity, the more you get. 
Brilliance lies within each of us. 
Go now. Live. Play. Explore. 
FOLLOW YOUR PASSION. 
Learn more. Do more. Be more.

Finding your voice

I have always thought I was not a very creative person, mostly because when I heard the word "creativity", what usually came to my mind were artistic skills like painting, design, arts & crafts... Precisely those things I was quite bad at.

Then over the years I´ve changed that perception, not because I started getting good at painting, design or arts & crafts, I´m still awful at all of them. It´s because I have realized two things:

First, that trying something once or twice and finding you´re not good at it doesn´t mean you´re never going to be good at it, it just means you don´t have enough practice (this seems really obvious when you see it written here, but it´s not always easy to see in the moment, especially when you´re used to getting other things done right the first time round without much effort)

Second, that you can be creative in so many different ways! You just need to find the creative outlet that better suits you personally. Your own way to express what´s inside you.

Your voice.

A couple of years ago I "found my voice" in the most literal sense, upon signing up for my company´s workplace choir and starting weekly practices with Nicola, our choir director. I had always liked music, but never realized before how much I really enjoy singing, it truly lifts my spirit.

Whether I´m good at it or not is another matter entirely; that will only be seen once we can reunite again and put together a performance, although I would say that that´s the least of my worries... The most important thing is how much we enjoy singing (and laughing) together as a group, and if other people also enjoy listening to us, then that´s brilliant, double reward.

Also in my life there are and have been other ways to express my creative side: during my childhood and adolescence it was dancing, when I moved to Ireland it was blogging, and when the gils were younger (and even now that they´re a bit older), you can imagine, being a parent also demands a fair amount of creativity :-)

How do you express your own creative side? Have you found your voice yet?

A sentence up on the wall

Every now and then I´m going to leave around here one of the quotes and sayings that most resonate with me. This one I saw for the first time as a child, in a magazine, and even though I didn´t fully understand it at the time, it caught my attention:

A man only possesses what he cannot lose in a shipwreck

Hindu proverb
Hook Head lighthouse, in county Wexford (Ireland), where the rocks and the mighty winds have surely caused more than one shipwreck.

Create, consume, connect

This week, with all the excitement of starting with the blog again, I have felt full of energy. More than once the hours went by in front of my screen without realizing... And all this after having already spent my usual working hours also in front of a screen.

Sum them up and they are many, many hours of screen time.

semi opened laptop computer turned on on table

The fact that the hours go by without realizing is a good sign, I know, I´m enjoying it a lot, and also learning at the same time. On top of writing the posts, I´m also configuring the website myself (now with WordPress, much better than with what I had previously), and I want to do it properly, fully accessible and bilingual Spanish-English. So my time is split between configuring the various plugins and settings (thanks a million Maria for all your advice), thinking of ideas to write about, writing about them, and translating everything that´s already written, not only the posts but also all of the text strings scattered around the site. Let me take this opportunity to ask you: if you see any errors or typos, please let me know so I can fix them, some of you have already done that and I´m grateful for it :-)

Another thing I´m doing this week is taking a crash course in social media, as things have progressed a lot in the last few years. In the old times, writing a blog post was enough; people woud see it in their RSS feed reader, or would subscribe via email, or would visit the website every now and then checking for new content... Now you have to be on social media, the more the better, so I took the plunge and created a Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram account, so that whoever wants to follow me can do it easily.

But of course, all that brings a new challenge: more social network connections, more interesting content available, more notifications and more screen time, as soon as you drop your guard for a moment. That´s why it´s so important to use the internet consciously, and take advantage of the infinite possibilities it gives us without letting it interfere with our life more than it´s necessary.

Not long ago, in a very interesting video I watched on Youtube (more screens), they mentioned that the activities we do on the internet can be divided into creating, consuming and connecting. After months and months of basically consuming content and learning passively, I am really excited about creating (in this case writing, translating and bringing the blog to life), and I even enjoy connecting and reconnecting in new ways through social networks. But I´m also looking forward to being able to go out into the real world again, and connect, create and learn there as well, in a more tangible way and in three dimensions. I´m finding it a bit hard to get started due to lack of habit, but I know the effort will be worth it.

So in summary; walk away from your screen for a while and find something else to do! :-)

Version history

The extraordinary circumstances we have lived in this past year have resulted in many of us thinking about reinventing ourselves, be it out of necessity, due to changes in our lives and our surroundings, or simply due to having more time for reflection, for taking an honest look at our life and evaluating the possibility of altering our course.

The word "reinvention" used to sound to me as very radical, and I have to say I was almost afraid of it. Until I remembered what my good friend Bea told me once: that along the way in our own history we are really living many lives; every time we turn a page, it´s a new life.

And I realized I had already reinvented myself, and more than once.

Life cycles of man and woman.

Coming as I am from the IT world, what came to my mind was comparing each of those reinventions with a "version change" in my life. Every significant change has meant some progress, some learning, which I´ve been able to incorporate to the next version of myself. Some of those life events I chose, others I didn´t. Some of them were bigger than others, the same way an operating system or application can get upgraded to a "major" or "minor" version (if I´ve lost you already, here´s more information about software versioning).

So I got to work and ended up building my own version history:

  • V0 (version zero) - I arrive in this world (more specifically in Cáceres, Spain) on March 10th 1978.
  • V1.0 I decide to study Computer Engineering - the first "real" decision of my life.
    • V1.1 - I get a boyfriend.
    • V1.2 - I finish college and move to Madrid, searching for a job.
    • V1.3 - I get my first job, in a consulting firm.
    • V1.4 - I change jobs, my assigned project gets cancelled and they let me go.
    • V1.5 - I find another job, in another consulting firm.
    • V1.6 - I get interested in translating, and take a course - university expert in translation Spanish-English
  • V2.0 - I get married and move to Dublin, Ireland
    • V2.1 - I find my first job in Ireland, as an analyst/programmer, in a great company (bye-bye consulting)
    • V2.2 - Mi daughter Irene is born - I become a mother.
    • V2.3 - I have a miscarriage with my second pregnancy.
    • V2.4 - My daughter Alicia is born.
    • V2.5 - I take a Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) course.
  • V3.0 I decide to take a career break, and spend more time with my daughters
    • V3.1 - I take a course in teaching Spanish as a second language.
    • V3.2 - My daughter Eva is born.
  • V4 I separate from my husband (later on I get divorced).
    • V4.1 - I start working in another great company, as a systems analyst.
    • V4.2 - I buy my own house to live in, with my daughters.
    • V4.3 - I transition from IT to a business role within the same company.
    • V4.4 - I adapt myself to working from home and changing the shared custody routine.

So there you go: at least three reinventions, three big changes, with their little gradual changes in between... Funnily enough, my first calculation ended up in version 4.3, now that I´m 43 years old :-)

I hope this example motivates you to reflect on your own experiences, on how you have upgraded versions so many times already, facing big and small challenges, and how you have succeeded and learned with all of them... that will give you confidence to face whatever comes next, continuing to evolve.

In the meantime, as it couldn´t be any other way, I´m already working on my fourth reinvention, preparing version 5.0.

This is your life

Well, here I am, starting to write blog entries again, after what feels like an eternity.

A lot can happen in eight years... Some of the topics I used to write about back then are less relevant to my life nowadays. Some others remain constant, if one can call them that, given that they also evolve over time, like life itself :-)

And what better way to begin again than with the Holstee manifest, which I have hanging in my living room, and which inspires me every time I look at it:

Holstee manifesto (Spanish)
Holstee manifesto (Spanish)
Holstee manifest (English)
Holstee manifesto (English)