“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
I am doing it. I am terrified, but I am doing it. OTR Bristol did a SkyDive last year but I wasn’t brave enough, because last summer I was still unable to cross the Bristol Suspension Bridge. Today I still sweat climbing the attic ladder, but I have conquered the bridge at least. I am obviously really worried about it but I also feel that is it exactly what I need right now to process all my grief connected to the losses of this year and the experience of severe social isolation from the past few years too.
There are a lot of reasons why this project is emotionally challenging for me. Doing the SkyDive is one thing, but I am also managing the OTR project, which means my role is to support others doing it too. I am also fundraising at OTR, which means I feel at least a little bit obligated to meet the fundraising goal – which after a move to a new city seems a bit hard. We do not have many friends in Bristol just yet. Basically for the next six months I will live and breathe the OTR SKyDive.
There is also a good chance that this fundraising event will distract me from a lot of emotional processes going on for me at the moment as I am emerging from the next counselling course and a pretty difficult year of Brexit and loss of both parents. I think that is exactly why I have decided to document my SkyDive journey publicly – to ensure that I am immersing myself in this emotional journey but also remain very kind to myself. Being actively engaged in this, but at the same time taking it easy will be my personal goal. I hope to heal, really. I healed a lot in the first year of our life here in Bristol, so this my next stage. I hope to move away from the anxieties and get back to the more adventurous and opinionated self. I hope to think about my dad a lot and celebrate the best of his legacy.
So here is what I do. I set up my SkyDive page, you can see the plans for the day below.
I set up my JustGiving page where I share updates on my journey:
I was very honest in my story description because I think I owe it to my supporters too:
This summer, a big group of OTR’s supporters are taking part in a skydive! This is exciting but also TERRIFYING!
I will be joining the team in memory of my Father, Hubert Korsak, who died this January. I really wish there was something similar to OTR Bristol when he was young to support him through his difficult marriage. My mother was a narcissistic abuser but their generation did not speak about mental health. They had to “get on with things”.
Despite his times, my Dad was a good man. I was raised by a kind, carrying Father so I appreciate the importance of good emotional support in difficult times. I became a resilient and steady adult.
In the last few years of my life in Oxfordshire however, I have experienced severe social isolation and (for the first time in my life) racism. Few years of that Brexit infused hostility resulted in newly acquired anxieties.
It took me 12 months of living in Bristol to collect the courage to cross the Suspension Bridge. I still sweat when I climb the attic ladder! My relationship with fear is very new and very strong. So this challenge is going to be really difficult. Very emotional. Very difficult. But also very healing.
I joined OTR Bristol exactly a year ago, shortly after my move to the warm and welcoming Bristol. I have started feeling better and trusting people again. Losing both of my parents in that period was extremely complex and difficult but I was held by a wonderful group of people who really were there for me. Who show up for young people every single day.
So I have no doubt that my dad would have liked the idea of the SkyDive and if he was here, he would have donated the first sum. I miss him, but I know he would be proud of what we do at OTR Bristol.
I am hopeful that my father’s legacy will continue in my son and that my son’s generation will talk about mental health openly. OTR Bristol is already making a difference in his school so I am pretty sure he will be open about it and supported.
I set up my Facebook fundraiser with similar updates because many of my friends work in social media so they will find it easier to support me there.
I also set up a YouTube live journal which is here with the first video recorded last Thursday to kick it all off.
I will record my second video tomorrow – which in itself is terrifying, but good. It makes me feel slightly uneasy but also happy to have the technology to openly share my journey. I have lost my voice so now I am thinking this is a great opportunity to let go of my newly acquired anxiety, let go and enjoy the journey.
I hope you will join me on this. I hope you will learn something from my explorations as well.
Thank you for reading!
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
This blog post is long overdue, I am sorry. I was distracted panicking about my summer SkyDive. I have, however, talked to John about Internet Addiction term over on YouTube. Here it is:
As a follow up to that chat, I would like to write up my take on it just in a bit more detail. What do I think about Internet Addiction? I think it is a problematic label at the moment although I hope the context of it is going to change in the upcoming years.
First of all, let’s remind ourselves that every person will have a different definition of Internet Addiction. Those personal interpretations of the term will range from media fed assumptions made by people who hate change, technology or both and assume that anything to do with the Internet is evil. Those clearly lack critical thinking but affect all of us. Walk into any mental health training and you will hear that social media is the first example of factors of bad mental health. (Why and who said so is never stated – we simply repeat what we hear). Media outlets have been scaring us with Internet Addiction since its first years and yet in reality how many of our friends actually suffer today? (some people do, I am asking about your personal average here). The problem with those personal, media-fed interpretations is actually political. Internet Addiction is very often combined with conversations about online safety. I know that at first, it seems like a very irrelevant connection because it should be. But that’s not the case. Not many average web users know that authorities of many countries have managed to restrict access to the Internet under the excuse of safe Internet practice (without defining what “safe” really means).
Midway on the scale, you will find the official definitions by APA and WHO with pretty specific criteria. Those definitions are new and problematic (see below) but at least attempt to define the concept of Internet Addiction. Acknowledging Internet Addiction as a mental health condition paves the way to open conversations about the negative impact of compulsive Internet use. It helps mental health professionals prepare to support their patients. It justifies the funding of related research. It allows support for individuals who suffer from addictive behaviours. There is a problem with the term though. The diagnosis, if given, is based on a term which has not yet been confirmed and researched enough. In the history of APA’s DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the Bible for mental health professionals) it is probably the first term of this kind). One which enters media and political discourse without the clause stated in the DSM that it still needs way more research to be confirmed. I repeat: it is NOT CONFIRMED. Labels are helpful but can also be political. Rumour has it, I will put it gently, that some governments would prefer their citizens to stay offline and in separated networks so they have lobbied WHO to introduce the term. (I am yet to see a government happy for its citizens to have access to free information, education and collective thinking). Of course, we will never know for certain. What we do know is that many mental health professionals and new startups are starting to make a brilliant amount of money on curing people of Internet Addiction – without a clear explanation of what it really is.
Finally, at the end of this spectrum, there is also common sense, which of course is very individual. When I asked my son what the term means to him his first reaction was to ask for clarification: “Internet is a bunch of tubes and cables so what do you really mean?” – my son is 13 and yet so many adults fail to ask that question. If you ask a counsellor, you will probably hear a description of a classic addiction (withdrawal symptoms, impact on daily life and obsessive thinking about the cause of addiction). But there is a problem with that application of addiction – a lot of forms of Internet use are actually pleasurable and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the social web is the extension of who we are than it is perfectly OK to crave learning more, finding out more, connecting more, missing chats with friends etc. What I am saying is – the addiction treatment model does not help!
I do not think we know just yet what Internet Addiction is. I think we need to be really careful and specific when talking about Internet-related addictive behaviours and use those, not the general term. I am really glad to see the Wikipedia definition of the term finally listing different, more specific formats of addiction: gambling addiction, gaming addiction, communication addiction, VR addiction. I think we need to specify it even more and treat each and every single person experiencing addictive behaviours with very individual, tailored but also contextual support.
The behaviour itself is usually a function of something else going on in our lives. Games are full of elements of positive psychology – they make us happy, achieved, connected. They can also be really much more fun than a toxic boss and a boring job. Online gambling can be the extension of our offline gambling habits or a deeper unfulfilled need. Communication addiction can be a result of being abandoned, isolated, alone. And even this is not explicit enough. Because the place of the Internet in our lives is complex, it works together as an element of our reality – something happens online, affects our offline behaviour, we go back online, our habits online escalate, our online contacts respond one way or another, we react or not.
Internet Addiction as a term is problematic. For over 15 years of the Safe Internet Practice Day we have been talking about the impact of the Internet on us in purely negative terms without even considering checking the facts. We have been telling our children that screens are detrimental to their health when it is now proven to be a myth, not a scientific fact. We have been over-using the term addiction without really exploring the meaning of it. And the problem lies in overused, meaningless terms. Because we take those labels and label ourselves too – without any critical thinking.
The bottom line is this. As it is today we do not know what is the impact of the Internet on humanity. It is a complex issue and it needs to be researched contextually with as much objectivity and critical thinking as possible. It’s not enough to state that teens are affected by social media, because we know from good research already that some groups of teens (women, poorer or isolated individuals) suffer, while others thrive. What we need to do is dive into a good set of data with a very contextual set of neutral assumptions and questions. We need to focus on what is said and what is on the other side of the coin. Here is a recent example from Sonia Livingstone’s research here in the UK:
- “Nearly half of parents (46%) and teens (44%) describe themselves as ‘addicted’ to their mobile device; also, a third of teens (35%) and two-thirds of parents (63%) think the other is ‘addicted’ too.
- Half of teens (54%) and parents (51%) say they get distracted by mobile devices at least once a day, and 72% of parents say their teen gets distracted.
- Screen time conflicts are common in today’s families with children – ranking as the third most common source of conflict for parents after chores/helping around the house and bedtime/sleep, and ranking fourth for teens (after chores, sleep and homework conflicts).
Yet 86% of parents say their teen’s use of mobile devices has not harmed or has even helped their relationship; and 97% of teens say the same of their parents’ mobile use. Further, most UK families do not think mobile devices disrupt meal times, most parents allow their teens their privacy online, and most are optimistic about the benefits. “
Even though we are not technically addicted, we think we are. Because the term was so overused for more than a decade. So how do we start to approach this topic with more care? Here is my personal suggestion. Next time that red dot of notifications on your screen calls for you stop for a second and think about the following:
- How does it make me feel? Am I addicted or do I want to know if my friends are OK, have an opinion about my recent post, plan to go out to a nice local event?
- Do I need to do it now or can I do it later? Which is better for me?
- Why do I rush to check it out? Is it because I have time and want to feel connected with other people online? Is it because I am busy at work but also bored? Is it because I am ill and stuck at home? Is it because I have time and I feel lonely?
- Is it OK to feel this way with those motivations? I suspect you will judge yourself, but think about it carefully – is it really bad to seek contact with your friends? Is it really affecting your work or supporting it?
- What is the actual impact on your health and on your relationships? Are you thriving, functioning or struggling?
When I see the red notification dot I know my friends are active and I can check in with them in the evening or at lunch, or I simply have something to do for a client. I plan my day work well to allow myself for online check in and keep an eye on the time I spent online. Usually I spend so much time online for work that I do not rush to check notifications anyway – I treasure the time off screen. But I also love to chat to my friends and love the feeling of online connection, so I make time for it. It does not affect my health or work or life.
Think about it carefully. Question what you read or what you are told on the topic. Next time you say or even think that you are addicted to something related to the Internet I urge to review it carefully in the context of what makes you happy and what impact it has on your health and social connections. Do not overuse the “addiction” – reserve it for the very few who really struggle because their lives are falling apart. Yours probably is not, you might just need to tweak your habits or accept that watching a YouTube movie is meaningful for you right now. And that’s OK.
In the meantime there are a few wonderful people out there who are pushing for the change in the actual Internet Addiction diagnosis and that change is coming. So we will know more soon enough. For now, we just need to look out for each other and keep calm. There is a lot online to read, learn, do and enjoy and that’s perfectly fine. We are actually quite OK.
Good luck and let me know how you feel about Internet Addiction.
We all lie. Most of us at least twice a day according to this TED talk. It’s part of being a human. We lie for a reason – to protect ourselves or others. A lot of modern lies related to the digital world are actually not new at all. Studying lies is much easier now that our conversations are actually recorded with the help of tech. And as it turns out, people actually tend to lie less online. I find this fascinating.
So why is honesty so important to our resilience skills? I personally think because it requires a few strong habits we all benefit from:
- Courage – to stand up for our truth in the light of social pressure.
- Empathy – to recognise people’s feelings and adjust our message to those accordingly
- Kindness – having people’s best interest at heart, not ours.
- Honesty with oneself – being clear on what we do, why we do it and who we want to be in every moment in life.
I am having a lot of conversations nowadays about online identity (one or multiple) and about the notion of presenting ourselves differently in different situations. I am personally an advocate of a certain level of consistency in all situations in life, including one honest online identity. I think that the social web is the extension of who we are in real life so it should really reflect our honest self. That is my personal take though. I really like to meet people who read my blog and almost find it surprising just how it reflects who I really am. I think it has something to do with our need to fit in and adjust our presentation to various contexts in life. I just wonder if it is not easier to just be yourself and carry that one central image with us everywhere? I might behave a bit more reserved in a business meeting, but ultimately I will giggle at the same jokes. I might speak slower in the UK than in Poland, but I will respect people of all backgrounds in both countries. I might talk about the positive impact of gaming online but I will challenge the myths of oversimplified Internet addiction in all suitable instances in my life. I find this process fairly easy because my goal is to be true to myself.
It’s hard enough to get that right knowing really well that we all have so many biases. We grow up in the bubble of our heritage, upbringing, social and economical class, education and finally profession. It can be tempting for me as a soon-to-be counsellor to shut off my blog and hide behind a static website but is it going to help my future clients? Is it going to reflect who I really am? Will they get me from such limited and guarded presentation? Or would it make more sense to be genuine and real instead. Build trust before we even meet in person? Sounds more sensible to me.
Going back to the above quoted TED talk – to lie or not to lie is not the question here. To stay true to yourself is. Being honest with ourselves means we can navigate our life lightly and confidently with a clear purpose. This was of living is simply easier and more rewarding. It is harder to get lost in our own translation to which can be really precious during harder times in life (when it is ever so tempting to question
oursevlesanyway). Creating our offline and online identities becomes so much easier if we don’t get lost in lies, but build ourselves through our truths.
I do realise that this is my take and I know many people disagree with it so I would love to know what you think.
For me personally, perseverance is an interesting character strength to write about. I used to think of myself as more of a free spirit and a person who would start a million things and finish a few. I did not stick to my own plan most of the time. I changed directions and jumped from one project to another. I did loads and managed to fit in even more. But I was more interested in innovation than steady, determined reaching of goals.
When I became a mother I was already trained in psychology enough to understand that a certain level of stability is necessary to create a safe space for a child. So I would define perseverance differently – not as finishing what we started but simply by showing up, being there for that small person, standing like a rock when their world was shifting between various stages of their development. Holding them through their illness and personal failures. Holding their hand when they learned to walk. Perseverance to me was then defined on a slightly different level: being reliable and constant, regardless of what life threw at us. (Don’t confuse it with rigid rules, I don’t agree with those as they need to be mutually negotiated). I guess I started seeing my life through the eyes of a small boy who had to learn to express himself, take his few first steps, walk into school on that first day and from there continue on his journey. Perseverance was our way of meeting somewhere in between the lines of our two identities and simply looking out for each other. Not giving up on each other.
At work, it was the challenges that defined my definition of never giving up. Working in the first social media agency in the country meant that a lot of what we did in those early days of a new industry was based on trial and error. The great thing about that, as we all quickly discovered, was the person-centred approach to blogger engagement and online conversations. Those of us who worked in social media back then had to figure it all out together with bloggers and online users, go back to big brands and serve as the voice of people. We were actively defining and renegotiating the rules of online engagement (for example sending trial gadgets to bloggers to review them on their websites or simply get involved in our events and online campaigns). None of it was automated. All of it required a high level of determination and personal ownership of our work on a daily basis.
As I moved on to built a startup agency from scratch, that determination to deliver good services had to be taken to an extreme level. When you start to build a new brand you have nothing but the personal reputation of the people who came up with the idea and their networks. In our case, we were lucky to have enough of that. I knew the agency world already so many usual pitfalls of a starting up company could be avoided. But to persevere in the first few months, years even meant to look out for each other, think really carefully about each step and be patient.
Moving to my own business was my next big step. I did not realise the price one pays for running their own business (as well as the range of benefits, of course). Not giving up this time meant facing my own limitations and slowly, gradually building up my own contingency. Learning parts of the business I was not familiar with. Growing my independent competency. Building new products and marketing them wisely. Learning to balance private and work life, and adding a pinch of self-care to the mix. Actually a lot of it! Working out mechanisms and networks that would hold me through risky times. Learning to trust people and yourself. Learning to manage the company together with my family life too.
When I started my therapy studies perseverance was there in those late evening and really deep and challenging conversations. In the journeys down the rabbit hole of our own mind. In piles of books. More importantly, in the vast amount of touching stories people shared with me. Stories I had to learn to hold for them to help their healing. Learning to clear my mind and move beyond my biases became my new form of perseverance. Not giving up on myself became my priority to ensure that I can support others too.
I cannot even describe how hard it is to find the right balance between social media marketing and counselling. One is historically loud, open, vocal and engaging. The other is quiet, silent even, holding and actively listening. But as I found it now – both depend on deep trust between human beings. Both define our humanity. Both can be conducted unethically and damage us to our core but if done well, liberate and reconnect us with ourselves and our communities.
I am finding a lot of reasons to continue combining both worlds and so perseverance is something I am practising more often. It serves me as a new muscle – one that needs to be exercised but brings great support in times of need.
Perseverance brings results, but not fast. It takes its time. It makes us wait while it matures. It grows around us and within us. In the long run, it really pays off.
This post became a different list, I feel. Today I would like to finish it off with a practical metaphor. About a year ago my family took on a large allotment plot in Bristol. We were very lucky to get it fast but pretty overwhelmed with its size and terrible state. It took us a year of finding time in our busy lives to pop out to the plot and clear it out. It took us a year but we are getting there. It was a bumpy ride at times because we were up against Mother Nature too. Brambles grew faster than our digging attempts. Hot summer made it impossible to dig for weeks altogether. Seasons came and went but we stayed determined and committed. We had a vision from day one. We stayed focussed and hopeful. Bit by bit we worked our way through it.
We had help from other allotment owners who joined in or simply offered their crops just to cheer us up. We had small crops that we cherished. We complained, hated it at times. But we got the work done. It was hard but rewarding. It was challenging but we did not give up. I bet if it was easy we wouldn’t be enjoying the plot as much as we do now. We are excited about this summer in times when in the U.K. the overall feeling is pretty hopeless. We have a place to escape, to work from even, to rest and to stop for a second. We go there to reconnect with Earth, with people and with ourselves.
I do not think perseverance is one thing. I don’t think it is always helpful. I do think however that in difficult times having the skill of not giving up just so easily helps a lot. I feel this every time I sit out on our plot and take a sip of my coffee: We did it. We can do this. We can all do this – we just need to find it in us.
It took me a while to post about this character strength. I really did not know how to approach bravery at first. I do not consider myself brave. In fact, in the last few years, I have discovered the real meaning of the word “anxiety”. The fear which comes in waves of sweat, heat, irrational fears and that sense that something really bad is about to happen – we just really cannot put our finger on it. It’s terrifying. What’s even more terrifying is the reaction of people around us – their inability to relate to our state, or even for a second try to imagine it. I come from an Eastern-European background, from a place where people simply get on with things. A place where vulnerability is not a sign of strength, but still of weakness. I think the lack of validation can be a multiplier of that anxiety and so if you know how to protect yourself, put on a thicker skin on and get over your fears you are seen as strong, brave even.
Whereas in the new, modern world of emotional intelligence, the real bravery lies in opening up and living with a high level of vulnerability. Because it takes courage to open up and risk the pain of rejection or mockery. The real bravery lies in small acts of kindness when we cannot be bothered to stop and help another person. It’s in the time we spend waiting patiently for our kids to put their shoes on or for catching up with that one more butterfly. It’s in the kindness at the end of a terribly tiring day. In a simple act of leaning in when it’s not necessary or required, but ever so caring.
I love Bristol for the daily acts of courage of people who live here. The other day I was walking down my street with my dog to the park. On the street corner, I noticed a little boy on his little bike almost cycling into the road – with no parents around. I stopped to see what the boy would do, searching for parents, just to make sure he would be OK. As I did so a car slowed down and a lady driver nodded at me. I waved back showing I have no clue what was going on, so she slowed down, even more, to find the parents with me. Seconds later the mum of that boy appeared and took care of him but it was so nice to feel connected in that simple act of caring. Was it brave? I actually think that in today’s world in which politicians and salesmen wish to divide us so much, we actually need to make an effort to re-connect with each other. And that does take courage sometimes. Courage to slow down, to stop, to engage with another person, to make time and to care.
There is also a different type of courage – facing our fears by exploring them in more detail. I was always used to doing that, but recently (in the last decade of my life) I got out of the habit. So this year I have put my name forward to the annual charity SkyDive to test my attitude to my new sense of anxieties. The hight of the jump will be quite a symbolic expression of all the new fears I have accumulated in the recent few years. I hope the moment I jump, I will let them all go. But maybe it is not just one step but a process?
I have dedicated a large chunk of my last decade on studying fears and anxieties so today I would like to look at the list of most common ones:
- Fear of death – I would like to start with this one because our inner need for transcendence over death is probably the strongest drive in life. Working in bereavement support I had to explore my own feelings about death in many ways, for quite a long time. I read a pile of books. I talked to many professionals. I worked in therapy on my own multiple losses too. I journaled about it. I explored it with my friends. I have realised that sooner or later all our mental health problems tend to boil down to this very fear. Fear of the finality of our own death, the ultimate end of our own life. Through this journey of facing my own fear of death, I have grown more self-aware than ever before. I have learned to hold space for people in some really difficult points in life – I am told I am taking the holding skill to a pretty impressive level. I am convinced it’s due to all the hard working of looking at my personal fear of death directly – not ones, many times. Thinking about death affects our tolerance levels and escalates to many other areas of mental wellbeing, so it’s really worth considering spending some time reviewing our personal attitudes to death.
- Fear of being alone – so many of us do not know how to do it anymore. There are many layers to being alone, of course, and as I train to become a therapist, I am uncovering newer layers still. I do think many of us really struggle with having time so we fill it up with anything that would keep us busy – busy from thinking, feeling and simply being in the moment. We fear to realise that our lives might be empty (of passions, of people, of goals). As if the emptiness was terrifying when it could actually be healing, steadying and grounding. I think it’s worth practising being alone to cope with this fear better. Being alone allows us to re-connect with our true selves. That can be revolutionary! It can also be scary as it might uncover a pile of other problems so be gentle and kind to yourself. Make time for your own self and celebrate it. Without judgement.
- Fear of people – is something we tend to suffer from more and more, especially in the new world which is trying so hard to divide and isolate us. We are slowly losing the sense of community. Our social groups are smaller. We have hardly any time to maintain friendships or stay in touch with family. In a highly individualistic society, individuals are quite lonely and scared of each other. That makes me sad. That fear is understandable though and so easy to conquer. Just say hi, smile or help someone. That’s all it takes to re-connect with another.
- Fear of failure is a difficult one because the new, elusive and almost impossible definition of success is so embedded in our social structures, in advertising, in fake expectations! We end up beating ourselves up over failures when in reality they are just a path to better understanding. We learn through failure, yet so many of us dread this form of learning. Practice it. Practice failing and giving yourself permission to look back and learn from it. With that new perspective, you might just realise how powerful failing can be.
- Fear of war – is something I have felt for the last few years of Brexit and something many of my peers are living daily now. I can only hope that all those fears will prove unnecessary, but I also notice that they already take their toll on us. We live in a divided society and similar dividing movements are coming up in many European countries – which is worrying. The very thought of war (old, or the new cyberwar) was unsettling enough for me to lose my blogging voice for quite a while. I have no answers to this one, but one: hope. I am an optimist and I hope that we will figure this out too.
I am scared of heights. I dislike spiders. I am not ready to drive. So I have other common fears, but the ones listed above are quite important for me. As I make friends with my fears, as I slowly embrace my new vulnerabilities, I am also becoming braver day by day. Sometimes I think that with my newly discovered anxieties I am growing stronger than I ever was before.
I would love to know what you think about the common fears and about your personal experience of some of the above mentioned ones. Let me know.
Offering good advice does not seem like a character strength at first, but it actually involves a lot of courage. People operate within their own frame of reference which also means perceiving the reality within the boundaries of their own biases. It can be really difficult to point out seemingly obvious better solutions if the client or friend is not ready to accept it. It can take a bit of courage, risk-taking and leaning into their world to share our message effectively. It also means we need to step out of our comfort zone and out of our own worldview sometimes. I can see perspective as a character strength and I think especially in consultancy or therapy work it is crucial for success.
I am quite a passionate and stubborn individual so over the years of my social media consultancy I have discovered a lot of blocks to my own ability to offer people good advice. I am still learning it and so today I will try to list what got in the way for me in the past. Let’s see if you find it helpful.
- Social and economical group – as a little girl I moved from a very well developed part of Poland to the Ukrainian border where my peers would come across as rude (the three magic words – please, thank you and sorry – did not operate in daily language), uneducated and often quite cruel. Some of my peers had to work in the field in summer instead of coming into the school. Others would receive severe, cruel, trauma-inducing punishment for bad grades (getting locked in a cellar for a night, for instance). I lived in a clear realisation that my life was different and that I needed to fit in. But I also had to work out the boundaries of that process. Today I use this skill to adjust my language and my conversations to people from various groups of society. This can be tricky in the UK as it is still a class system. It does help to be genuine and accepting of everyone’s background though.
- National and cultural group – my parents had a student exchange with Danish folk universities so I was able to travel even under Communist regime. Very early in my life, I have experienced a strong dissonance in people’s behaviours at the table, during travels, in their own homes. It was an eye-opener and I personally found it fascinating. Today I sometimes struggle to navigate the British political correctness because it also comes with a certain silence around the cultural heritage. Especially in Brexit years, we have experienced a strong need for language around cultural identity. I wrote a few articles about Brexit and in all cases, I was praised for my ability to navigate the topic in a balanced way but this comes from years of experience of having to discuss national and cultural aspects of life openly. Not talking about our heritage does not mean we respect it. Talking about it openly and respectfully proves that we can handle each other’s differences. I think this is something we are now learning here in the UK.
- Coming from the place of our origin – this is almost the opposite of the previous point, actually. When I moved to Hungary at the age of 18 I was curious and open about new cultures, but not
carefulabout my very own biased, often even racist statement. My problem was something we all share: the need to belong to a group and so to look at the world from our own place of origin, clinging on to it as something that defines everything we do. I would learn about Hungarian culture, cuisine, poetry, history of language and the country through the lens of being Polish. It’s a binary way of operating and it leads to intolerance. It is also an easy trap to fall into because both countries are predominantly racist and so living in Budapest as a Polish girl I felt home but noticed a lot of negativity around other nations. Making friends with international students slowly allowed me to open up my perspective, peel off racist expressions from my vocabulary and move beyond my own need to belong. It’s a process but to notice it in me was probably the most crucial part of it.
- Professional slang – as I grew up and started working in the software industry and in business, my world opened up to flying business class and spending my working hours with people passionate about similar topics. I entered the world of acronyms and databases. I then moved into the world of social media and really quickly joined a smaller group and later masses of people following trends. Because I joined the second wave of bloggers, people who saw many leading social networks coming into our lives, I was really keen and positive about them all. It was only when I worked for a small startup agency which aimed to educate charities on social media when the topic was still new that I have realised my own little box. It takes that one moment when you walk into the room and start training but see that people simply do not understand a world of what you are saying. A good communicator knows it looks bad on them, not on the audience. So I had to stop, get outside of my own tech bubble and learn to speak human language again. So I stopped talking about effective blogger engagement outreach. I replaced it with writing genuine and respectful emails to trusted bloggers. Luckily I did this way earlier than the set up of WhatTheFuckIsMySocialMediaStrategy.com. and by the time Millenials joined this new world, it wasn’t really so new anymore. I learned to run mum tests on everything I do (if you can explain it to your mum, it is good). I learned to question what I say and how I am saying it.
- My parent bubble – this one is fairly simple: assuming that I know better than my son so I do not have to treat him as equal, nor as someone who might be right. When in actual fact he grew up in this reality and knows the world so much better than I do. So as soon as I have noticed his brilliant abilities to navigate the areas that are important today: change, creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, co-production and many more – I simply stood aside, watched and started learning. I developed a new language of mutual agreements and congruent admitting to points where we miss each other. This way my perspective in now enriched by his generation and all the other ones coming after him.
- Binary gender bubble – this one is big for me because I suffered greatly as a woman in the tech industry, but not as much as many of my friends. I grew up with boys, hanging out with my older brother’s gang I was actually “the untouchable” which boosted my little girl’s ego into something which later became very useful in my adult life. I learned how to tell men to fuck off when needed. I learned to stand my ground. I learned to be opinionated even if men did not wish to hear my thoughts or deemed them useless by default. It oftentimes gained me the label of “annoying”, “self-centred”, “200% of herself” but worked in getting me the status men would have served by default. It was only when I lived in a very small town and had my own company that I realised the scale of my problem. When a mum at school told me: “you should be happy your husband lets you run your company in the first place”. It was that one sentence that woke me up to the reality of women around me. Here in Bristol during my therapy studies, I finally understood that our gender identity is not binary but it is formed by the rules of our society. And those rules do not place people who are not clearly men in any favourable places. Allowing for a spectrum of genders also lets go of the strong position of men in society. But just as hard as it was for me to realise my place in society, it is hard for many men to realise the stereotypes they are enforcing. So it’s important to find ways of communicating with kindness and care. I am still learning that.
- Mental abilities bubble – this used to be a clear cut for me as well. I used to think that some people are healthy and others have mental health illnesses or challenges. Until I opened our Minecraft Club and realised that children with seemingly strong limitations like Autism are actually wonderfully skilled in areas that I am poor at. That’s when I started noticing the real courage, kindness and uniqueness of all of us. Again I moved from us and them distinction into all of us and each of us uniquely. We all have special needs (and skills) and we all have similar needs too: to be respected, accepted and loved.
- Resilience bubble – we tend to grow up being told that we are strong or weak but actually life can throw so much at us that no matter how resilient we are, it might just ruin all our defences. It has happened to me at the time when I was actually quite happy and did not expect everything around me to fall apart. I was always a very
resillientand self-efficient person but sometimes we simply need to learn to admit the defeat and ask for help. We are social creatures. We are responsible for each other and it’s ok to not to be ok sometimes.
This list is shorter, but I found it useful to explore each point in more detail. I am sure there is more but those areas are important for my life but also for all my paid and voluntary work. What is important for you?
One of my top character strengths is love for learning. Learning has never been too difficult for me, although in the past I struggled with dry memorising of facts and dates. I needed to understand the causality of things to learn them properly. Before I took the VIA Character Strengths test I did not think much of it, but now I know that learning is actually quite important to me. It actually makes me happy.
I was due to write this post on Thursday but it was the last day of my university course. I started it with my personal therapy, did a bit of work and then met my peer support friend
tosum up the term. The last session was all about endings but also plans for the future. As I was talking about my plans people found me really structured and determined, some nodded wondering if maybe I should take studying a little bit easier. Even though I pointed out that exploring new questions and challenging myself intellectually is a pleasant and stimulating effort for me. We still perceive learning as effort or a chore, it seems.
I think there is an assumption about learning – we are told that it has to be boring, mandatory and hard. We are also told that successful academics know a lot but we never talk about the actual learning process. We forget that the mandatory learning at school was actually good if we had a good teacher, it was the system and unkind and uninspiring teachers who killed our love for learning. We forget that in order to learn effectively it helps to be invested, excited and passionate about the subject – so of course, a lot of mandatory training might be boring. We forget that in order to learn we have to feel a certain level of challenge, put some effort into it, often fail and review how we could do things better. Failure is not stylish nowadays, of course. We are so failure-resistant that we don’t talk about it. We beat ourselves up instead of looking honestly at our actions and learning from the mistakes.
Falureis an important part of personal growth!
I am particularly hard on myself and I do not like making mistakes. Realising that love for learning is actually my strength really helped me. I have learned to accept my mistakes as a part of that process. I embraced the fact that I am an explorer at heart so every learning journey is about the voyage, not about the wrong turns, nor the destination. I have learned to let go of my old Catholic sense of guilt in failure and simply move on. No matter which way we go, we will always find something new, interesting and if embraced: enriching.
This year I have completed a Certificate in Counselling. It was my third year of counselling studies and this one was really hard. I had Brexit and two bereavements to deal with. I had a lot of new discoveries across my private life, work, studies and my active listening practice. I was also in therapy. So it feels like after months of really intense voyages I have arrived at a quiet bay and I am starting to take stock. I am starting to talk to my friends about my adventures and new discoveries – most of which in this case are all about myself and my relationship with people. It’s fascinating and really important in this line of work. It is also fun. As hard as it sounds, counselling studies really teach people to work with our own selves at a deeper level. It’s a never ending journey. Often we are joined by new friends and I am glad to have two new people in my life now that’s to this course. Juggling work, voluntary jobs, family, company and university was to be honest bonkers, but it showed me just how much can be done in a week! I did not feel the effort of this journey as daunting as it could have been because I simply like the process of learning.
Going to university is something unique for me now, but there are many ways to study in the new connected world, so for my list today here are my favourite ways of using social web and Internet in general to learn. Enjoy and let me know how you use the web for learning.
- Online courses – I often sign up for courses on Coursera, MIT and FutureLearn but recently I have also studied over at Oxford University. Some courses are paid, but affordable and you can save all your training materials for later.
- Good newsletters – I could not imagine my week without Brainpickings or Narratively stories, but there is so much more out there!
- Amazon books – I cannot live without books so I spend too much money on them, actually. The great thing about ebooks is the accessibility but also additional highlights (which you can then download with Evernote)
- Audible – audiobooks are so handy on a day when I cannot look at screens or during longer trips. What I love about Audible is their trend to ask authors to read books. Listening to Michelle Obama reading her autobiography is a sublime experience.
- Wikipedia – I know it sounds really basic, but my parents had the full Encyclopaedia Britannica in their living room so I grew up with the idea of browsing through it and so I love the online dictionaries and definitions on Wikipedia (especially when I need to catch up on lives of psychologists or learn more about psychological concepts).
- Twitter – this is still the most open network where we can follow scientists but also see their inspirations so expanding our sources is way easier than elsewhere
- Pinterest – if I look for ideas or specific tips I use Pinterest because their good image recognition leads to fast similar results but it is also open enough to come across alternative solutions. I guess this is a space more used for practical tips (so I use it for gardening) but sometimes you can come across good academic articles and visuals too.
- Podcasts – again easy to use and easy to follow, what I like about podcasts is the intimacy of connection with the author and their unique styles
- YouTube premium – it’s my new channel and I think they need to work on their paid value but I like learning from YouTube documentaries and find older movies there too so using it without adverts is a real treat.
- Medium and personal blogs – regardless of social media conversations, personal blogs still are my preferred destination. They are our personal spaces so we learn a lot about each other there. I love catching up with friends this way.
All the above channels seem basic. However, when interconnected you can jump between a tweet, bio to a blog than to a book on Amazon and to Wiki page on the topic. Finally, you can find a content summary in a good visual on Pinterest. You just need to be open, flexible and curious. I know the above might sounds obvious but I hope it shows just how easy it is to practice love for learning online. What have I missed? Let me know.