Untranslatable words: struggle

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know that every now and then, I write about a sentence I find difficult to translate, either from English to Spanish or vice versa (if you´re curious and want to read those articles, you´ll find them under the category called Untranslatable).

Today, I´m not bringing you a sentence, but a word, more specifically, a verb: to struggle.

The Spanish dictionary says struggling can be translated as fighting, confronting or tussling with something. And yes, it´s something along those lines, but with a few more nuances, I think. Maybe because (at least in my head) most times, that "something" is not a physical thing, but a situation or challenge we don´t know how to manage, so we experience some suffering as we attempt to overcome it.

The photo gallery in Wordpress gave me this visual representation of struggle, and I thought it was spot on:

The rope could represent anything, real or symbolic (or imagined!) that we are confronted with, and towards which we feel we have no resources.. I think it´s a really interesting metaphor because the rope as such doesn´t have a life of its own; it all depends on what we do with it: we can keep tangling it more and more until we end up paralyzed, or we can untangle the knots bit by bit, one after the other, and break free. It´s almost as if that fight, that confrontation, that tussle, deep down, was with ourselves.

And here´s a thing I would like to make very clear: this happens to all of us at one point or another, or rather, at many points throughout our lives. It´s a part of life itself. That´s how we learn, how we grow, how we evolve.

One story that often comes up around this topic is that of the butterfly: part of its metamorphosis involves coming out of the cocoon, which takes a huge effort; it´s a real struggle. Anybody looking from the outside would think it´s going to die without achieving it. But the butterfly achieves it. And it has to be the butterfly itself, on its own, because that´s how its wings become strong, to be able to fly. If someone, with all their best intentions, had opened the cocoon earlier to let it out, it would have stayed weak and would not have survived.

Similarly, we all have to follow our own path and experience our own transformations. But do we really need to have such a hard time? Or watch others having a hard time, without helping them? Well, one thing we can do is treat those moments in life like what they really are: phases of growth, completely normal. And yes, we can help, but not by trying to resolve the other person´s problems from the outside, but by respecting their process, and accompanying them so that they can find their own resources and solutions.

I think this quote summarizes it really well; it´s the first cornerstone of co-active coaching:

People are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.
People are not broken and do not need fixing and have their own innate wisdom on how to live life.

What I mean by this is that, leaving out certain exceptions where there´s a pathology or disorder (in which case it´s necessary to consult a psychiatrist or psychologist), in general, all we need is a bit of time, support and self confidence to overcome the challenges that are put in front of us.

That, and self discovery, lots of self discovery, it always helps 🙂

The importance of context

Some of the books I remember most fondly from back when I was a child were the ones about Mafalda, a compilation of comic strips from the sixties and seventies created by Quino, the great Argentinian cartoonist.

I don´t remember how old I was when I started reading those books; I do remember being curious about words and expressions in Argentinian Spanish, and not understanding some of the jokes. But I didn´t mind, I loved them anyway. I re-read them so many times that I ended up memorizing many of the strips, and years later I finally got to understand them... Quino´s sense of humour is really, really clever in my opinion, and many of the topics he explored in Mafalda´s comic strips and his other graphic humour works remain as relevant now as they were back then.

Today I´m bringing you this strip, to illustrate a topic that came up recently:

Mafalda comic strip - Mafalda and Susanita talking about understanding adults

Here´s the transcription in English: it´s a conversation between Mafalda (a girl who´s about six years old) and her friend Susanita:

- Susanita: Why on Earth do adults spend their time doing and saying things one doesn´t understand?
- Mafalda: It´s very simple, Susanita. When you arrive at the cinema and it turns out the movie has already started, do you understand it?
- Susanita: No.
- Mafalda: Well, the same happens with adults. How can we possibly understand them, if, by the time we arrived, all of them had already started!?

What do you think of this reflection? Leaving aside the joke about kids not understanding adults, the truth is that sometimes we adults don´t understand each other either. Have you ever been in a class, or a meeting at work, and felt completely clueless, as if you had arrived in the middle of the movie?

The problem is that, more often than not, there´s certain basic information missing, and it´s assumed that everybody knows it: the context has not been defined. This may seem very obvious but in reality, it´s not, and it causes more communication issues than you would imagine. Going back to the work meeting example, maybe there was a previous email conversation that didn´t include all participants, and people go straight into discussing solutions without first checking that everyone knows exactly what the problem is. In a classroom, for example, the teacher may start teaching a topic that´s completely new and different, getting straight into the detail, without first explaining what it is about, why it is important, and how it fits with all the previous learning. Both the meeting and the class will be much more productive if there´s an initial investment in explaining the context.

And in a similar way, each person also has a context: each of us has a history, a family, a culture, a set of values, personal circumstances, thoughts, emotions, etc., etc., etc. The more we know about a person´s context, the better we will understand them, and the less we will judge. That´s why I think that, in our day-to-day, we could all benefit from clarifying the context of our conversations, this way getting to understand each other much better.

But be careful not to give too many explanations! It´s not necessary to explain everything, only the essentials. You´ll avoid being told what my mother used to tell me when I rambled on: start at the end! 😀

Untranslatable sentences: getting out of your own way

Today we´re talking about another one of those expressions in English that I love, and that I think lose their charm when translated into Spanish.

It´s "getting out of your own way", which basically means stop being an obstacle in your own path. When I hear it, I imagine a path in front of me, with a gigantic boulder in the middle of it, blocking the way... And I realize that, very often, I´m the one placing that boulder there.

OK, it´s not always a gigantic boulder, sometimes it´s a smaller rock... But the thing is that I do it, I sabotage myself, and that´s something that happens quite frequently to us as humans.

Today my daughter Eva, who´s reading the Harry Potter books, mentioned Dobby, the house elf. If you remember, every time Dobby realized he had done something against the rules, even if it was with the best intentions, he said "bad Dobby!" and tried to injure himself, doing things like banging his head against a wall, etc.

Well, I get the feeling that we humans do something similar sometimes, unconsciously of course. Our rational side establishes a goal or objective and wants to make progress in that direction, but it finds itself hindered (and sometimes, sabotaged) by an ever deeper side of ourselves, which somehow believes that achieving that goal would be against how things should be.

So, when we realize we´re finding it difficult to get closer to our goal, and we´re taking one step forward and two steps back, it´s time to start digging to see what´s hidden below that self-sabotage: there may be beliefs, values, or even aspects of our own identity that are in conflict with whatever it is that we want to achieve. And that´s where a coaching process can help a lot, in order to shine the light on those "hidden forces" that make us get in the way of our own success.

What about you? How are you getting in your own way, blocking your own path? And what would it take to remove those blockers?

Untranslatable sentences: me da pereza

Today I´m bringing you one of those untranslatable phrases that I enjoy collecting, only this time it goes the other way round: it´s an expression in Spanish for which I can´t find a good English translation.

Example scenario: it´s Friday evening, and the company´s Christmas party is starting in a couple of hours. Outside it´s already dark, and quite cold; the snow from the previous night has started turning into ice. I´m feeling warm and cozy at home, and when I start thinking about dressing up and going out, into Dublin´s city centre, to attend the party...

Me da pereza.

Grey cat lying on its side a wooden shelf, looking at the camera

That´s what I would say in Spanish, "me da pereza", which loosely translates as "I´m overcome with a feeling of laziness when I think about doing X". It´s as if I got tired just from thinking about it. It´s a powerful sensation that comes upon me... and pushes me toward the couch 😀

Looking around, I´ve found two possible translations: "I don't feel like it", which more literally translates as "no me apetece", and "I can't/couldn't be bothered", which basically means that I'm not going to do it, either because I don't consider it to be necessary, or because I'm not interested, or because I'm too lazy to make the effort.

I guess from those two, the closest one is "I don't feel like it", because it conveys the idea that I think doing X is a good idea in general, but at this moment in particular I don't have the energy or the will to do it. The other one, "couldn't be bothered", doesn't fit as well, in my opinion: it doesn't seem to me that it values X in any way (due to passivity, indifference, or who knows why) and it's also assuming that, whatever X is, I'm not going to do it.

And that's the beauty of "me da igual" or "I don't feel like it", in my opinion: it's an obstacle but not a blocker, just a barrier that can be overcome. Very often, our brain wants to go for the easy option, the comfortable one, the one that saves the most energy, and it has good reasons (namely preservation instinct). But we don't have to always pay attention to it, because it doesn't always know what's best for us...

I'm not saying that we shouldn't listen to our body when it really needs to rest, of course we should. But beyond that, it may be good for us to think about what it is that's holding us back, and why. What's hiding behind that laziness? What are we really trying to avoid? And what reward can we find if we go ahead regardless? That way, we will know if it's worth making that initial effort.

Did I finally go to the party? Yes, I did. Why? Because I knew that once I got there, I would have a great time, and that's exactly what happened. What was my strategy? The same one that's worked for me so many times in the past - going straight into getting ready without thinking too much about it, and most importantly, not sitting on the couch!

What about you? What is it that you don't usually feel like doing, and how do you motivate yourself to get over it?

Collecting quotes

Thanksgiving celebrations took place this past week across the United States, and if you have been taking a look at social media, you will probably have seen (in between Black Friday sale ads), a whole heap of inspirational quotes about gratitude.

(If you feel like reading a post about gratitude, here´s one from about a year ago)

Wooden scrabble letters forming the phrase "Say thank you"

My usual readers will have noticed that every now and then I like writing quotes in this blog, but not all the time, because even though I looooooove quotes (we could say I´m a quote collector), I get the impression that sometimes we get bombarded with so many of them that we end up overwhelmed, and then they no longer get our attention. That´s why I prefer to use them in small doses.

Today I do want to show you two quotes that are basically telling us the same thing, and they´re not the only ones by any means. It´s a message that´s been said a thousand times in a thousand different ways, precisely because it´s as true and as relevant nowadays as it was back in the ancient times of Greek philosophers:

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.


Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.

Oprah Winfrey

Banda sonora

If your life was a movie, what would its soundtrack be?

Vynil record playing in a record player

Today I remembered again a movie scene I watched a long time ago, which gave me a lot to think about back at the time. The story takes place at a university, and the camera alternatively takes the place of one of the two main characters, a boy and a girl, who are walking along the corridors, about to meet each other for the first time. They´re both wearing earphones, and listening to completely different things: the girl is listening to classical music, and the boy is listening to heavy metal or something similar. The moment arrives when they meet, they look at each other, and each of them perceives the other from their own point of view, with their own soundtrack in the background.

To me, this is a scene of incredible storytelling powers. Without needing to use words, it perfectly conveys how different the world is for each of the two main characters, and how differently they experience that exact same moment, with the same external surroundings...

I think we have all had moments when a certain song or music piece has made us look at life in a different way: maybe it made our day a bit happier, it gave us an extra energy boost, or it brought us good memories. Some other times, we may have taken the opportunity to listen to some sad or melancholic music, to let ourselves experience those emotions for a little while. The best part is that we can choose our own "soundtrack" at every moment, and I´m not only referring to the music we listen to (though we can definitely choose that, and we're incredibly lucky for the existence of Spotify).

Our "soundtrack" is also made up of those thoughts that we keep repeating in our heads without even noticing, those stories that we keep telling ourselves all the time, which may either help us or harm us, give us energy or take it away from us. It is true that we can't completely control every thought that crosses our mind, the same way that we can't control what song is playing on the radio at any given time. But what we can do is pay attention and change the dial as needed, skipping to a different station that we like better and find more useful. And it's also a good idea to edit our "playlists" every once in a while, taking the opportunity to remove old songs we no longer resonate with and add new songs that we feel like trying.

What do you think of this idea? What is your life's soundtrack at this very moment? And do you feel like keeping it, or is it maybe time for a change?

Untranslatable sentences: walking down memory lane

Today I´m bringing you another one of those "untranslatable" English expressions that I love, this one I think is a really cool metaphor: walking down memory lane, which we could loosely translate into Spanish as "darse un paseo por la calle de los recuerdos".

And that´s precisely what I´ve been doing this weekend: accompanying my friends in their own walk down memory lane, returning to places they hadn´t visited in many many years. It turned out to be a wonderful walk, both in the literal and figurative sense, and inevitably, we created new memories (thanks a million ladies!)

Stack of old black and white photos

In Spanish, the closest thing to memory lane that I can think of is something called the trunk of memories, from a famous song by Karina:

Searching through the trunk of memories
Any time in the past seems better than now.
Taking a look back is good sometimes,
Looking ahead is living without fear.

Another interesting metaphor, I think. And also during this weekend, I found myself searching inside that trunk, rescuing special moments with someone very close to my heart who passed away recently, and to whom I would have liked to be able to say goodbye.

I agree with the idea that it´s good to take a quick look back every now and then, and fondly remember the things that were, for at the end of the day, as my grandma used to say, "those times brought about these ones". But let´s be careful not to wallow in it for too long, or it may prevent us from making the most of the present moment...

Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

Robert Brault


Today I'm writing this post from Dublin airport, I'm about to cross the pond to spend a couple of days with my American work colleagues.

Crossing the pond, interesting expression. It's one of the many metaphors we use every day.

Close up of a red flower floating on the surface of a pond

According to Wordreference, one of the definitions of metaphor is a "Rhetorical way of describing another object or thing by suggesting a comparison of it to something else, but without using the word 'like'' or 'as''". Explained like this, it may seem a bit complicated, but the truth is that we use metaphors all day long, very often without noticing that they are, for example...

  • Me encontraba entre la espada y la pared
  • He was kicked out of there
  • I'm starving

And so many others.

Metaphors help us to explain life situations in a way that's easy to understand, and they don't only work outwards, when we speak with others, they also work inwards, in our inner dialogue. Sometimes we find it easier to connect with an emotion when we "give it a shape" through a metaphor, and that way we can even draw it, if it helps 🙂

And when we're facing a problem or a difficult situation, playing with metaphors can help us a lot in terms of changing perspective and looking for alternatives. For example, if a person is feeling that every time they try a particular thing they bang their head against a wall, they may even visualize that wall in their mind when they think in whatever it is they want to try, and get blocked. Following along with the metaphor, we could ask, where is that wall? What is it made of? How high is it? And what's behind it? In which other way could you get there? And then maybe this way, exploring ways to jump over the wall, or go around it, or even break it, this person may come to a realization and find solutions that they wouldn't have thought of otherwise.

Metaphors are also very interesting to think of when reflecting on some aspect of our life, or our work. This is often done in Agile methodologies, as part of team retrospectives: "if our last two weeks had been a movie, which movie would it be, and why?" Once we add that touch of creativity and humour to the conversation, it's amazing how much can come out of there.

So this week I'm proposing two things for you to do this week, if you feel like it: one is to listen with extra attention to see how many metaphors you find around you, and the other one is to find your own metaphor: if today you were a colour, which colour would you be?

Nihil volitum…

…Nisi praecognitum. This is one of the few phrases I know in Latin, and it roughly means that you cannot desire what you do not know.

Monkey with a mirror in their hands, looking at their reflection

It came to my mind today, along with this other phrase I read in a book by Laura Chica: Accept yourself. Love yourself. Improve yourself. In this order.

Very often in the world of personal development, we want to start at the very end: we become obsessed with trying to improve, overcoming our defects, and “fixing” the parts of our life that we don´t think are going well. We try to change our “bad habits” just by using willpower, making huge efforts along the way only to get poor results that are not sustainable. It´s as if we were trying to swim against the tide.

Wanting to change, to evolve, to improve, is a very positive thing. But if we approach it from a place of judgment and self-criticism, then all we´re really doing is beating ourselves up. Loving and accepting ourselves as we are is the necessary previous step for any long-lasting and successful life change.

But of course, this is much easier said than done; how can we get to the point of accepting and loving ourselves? The answer also comes to us from old wisdom, this time in Greek, through the famous inscription that used to decorate the front of Apollo´s temple in Delfos: γνωθι σεαυτόν. Know thyself.

It makes sense, doesn´t it? How are we going to love ourselves if we don´t even know ourselves? The better we know ourselves, the more we will understand ourselves, it´s that simple. As we dive deeper into the adventure of self-discovery, we will start becoming aware of what motivates us and what scares us, what our deepest desire is, why we do what we do (and what for), and it will become easier for us to forgive, accept, and finally love ourselves. And once we love ourselves, change happens from the inside out, without the need to force anything.

So, instead of starting at the end as so many times before, I encourage you to start at the beginning, by looking at yourself in the mirror and setting out on your inward journey:

Know yourself, accept yourself, love yourself, improve yourself. In this order.

Untranslatable sentences: back to basics

Here’s another one of those phrases that I like to call “untranslatable” - it’s not that they’re impossible to translate into Spanish, but they sound much much better in English, in my opinion, and you have to kind of explain their translation so that people can understand it well (other phrases and expressions here, here and here).

And today’s phrase is “back to basics”, which roughly translates to “Volver a lo básico”.

And what are the basics? Well, it depends on the topic that´s being discussed. If we´re talking about decoration, for example, or fashion, it might mean choosing simple colours and lines, instead of more complex styles. If we´re talking about primary education, it might mean returning to focus more on essential subjects like reading, writing, and maths. To me, the general idea conveyed by “back to basics” is that we have become so sophisticated (in whatever area) that we have forgotten what is truly important, the basis of it all, and we must return to it.

It´s a sentence that can be applied to many situations, at home, at school, and at work. Today, I´d like to propose that we use it as a reminder to look after ourselves.

woman doing hand heart sign while looking at the sunset

Looking after ourselves first, so that then we´re able to look after others, or take care of our own tasks. Because, how often are our days so busy, and so full, that they go by without us dedicating any time or attention to ourselves? And by the time we realize it, we´re already out of energy, already exhausted.

It may be due to us believing that other things are more important, that other people must come first… But that´s not sustainable in the long run. I love the way Katie Reed expresses it:

"Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what's left of you."

Katie Reed

Would you like to have the energy required to give the world the best of you? Then I suggest that you return to focus on these four basic pillars, if at any point you have stopped paying attention to them:

  • Rest – getting enough sleep every night (enough hours of deep, restoring sleep), as well as taking short breaks during the day.
  • Diet – keeping to healthy, balanced, and if possible, natural foods. Also, drinking lots of water in order to stay hydrated, and practicing conscious breathing every now and then, to help oxygenate each and every cell.
  • Exercise – dedicating some time to move, even better if it´s outdoors, and often. If you choose something that you like and find motivating, you´ll be more likely to keep at it: your favourite sport, swimming, running, dancing, yoga…
  • Connection – finding the balance between spending time connecting with others (as we are all social animals) and also connecting with ourselves, so that we can "keep our batteries full".

What do you think about these four basic pillars of self-care? Would you add any others? Which one do you think would be good for you to give more time and attention to, at this moment in your life?