May 15, 2012


Do you have any idea how hard it is to give yourself a spiritual makeover? You would think a snip here, a tuck there, a trip to Bali, a few exercises in positive thinking and... drum roll please! Out comes a fantastic new you.

I wish. Have you ever seen a snake molt? No? Well, me neither, but somehow I have the image buried deep in the recesses of my mind where all my 5th grade science lessons live that when that old, flaky skin peels right off the snake, he has all the same spots and stripes and snazzy colors that he did before. I suppose there's a lesson in that.

I'm currently on Day 9 of a 21-day positive psychology experiment that requires me to exercise, meditate, perform an act of kindness, note down something positive that happened and feel grateful about three things... every single day. Seriously. Every day. That's 21 acts of kindness. 21 days of something positive happening in between going to work, spilling coffee on yourself and eating too many of those chocolate nougat candies that have been sitting on your desk since the Christmas party. And 63 distinct and unique things to be grateful for. I mean come on. Can anybody actually do that? For 21 days in a row? Really. Really?

But I have learned something very important about myself in the process. Something you, dear reader, probably already knew. That's right. As it turns out, I like complaining. I'm a complainer. I'm just more Avenue Q than Sesame Street. And while I recognise the importance of positive thinking as a concept and a great facilitator for world peace, it just isn't very realistic to expect it from someone like me every single day.

And that's alright. I believe it's healthy and terribly grown up to own up to one's shortcomings. It's the soul's equivalent of professional development and 360° feedback. It's cleansing. Like this tidbit from a certain professor a few weeks ago (and a bit of a mentor of mine), who looked me straight in the eye and said "Sure, I get it. You want to feel like you belong. But first you're going to have to commit to something." Touché.

Can't commit. Loves to have a good grumble. God, I sound like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. And green is so not my color...

May 14, 2012

Of control freaks and artists

A couple weeks ago I was in New York, gorging on sushi, egg-white omelets, affordable Starbucks coffee and INSEAD reunion madness. (And yes, there were a "few" job hunting expeditions as well). Every year (since last year), the INSEADers of "the Americas" (so very Chris Columbus) have a little shindig with exciting panelists and high-brow debate followed by a fancy dress party in true Fonty fashion (this year's theme: Mad Men - without all the Lucky Strikes).

The panelists were CEOs and professors, all of a duly impressive caliber (and mostly male, but hey, it's business school after all), debating the question of what makes a leader - as an individual, as a company, as a political bigwig. Most of it sounded very sensible and I'm sure the speakers know better than me, but there were a couple points I took issue with.

The first was when a CEO of a rather large company involved in real estate stated with conviction that being a leader is the bee's knees because you get to control everything. Wow, really? You mean, like God? Now I'm sure that leadership attracts a lot of control freaks. Like yours truly. The vision of that blessed state where you get to tell everyone what to do and make them to it your way or else - heck, it's what us anally retentive neurotics have been salivating over since we reached kindergarten.

But in my experience, becoming a leader means learning to let go. Because you won't be able to control everything. There's always going to be someone making you do something you don't want to do (another department, your competition, your clients, the government, your priest, your significant other, whatever - there's always someone). And all those people you shout orders to from up high? Well, chances are they're not going to do things exactly the way you would have done it. Because they're people, not robots. Not clones. Not you. To avoid popping an aneurism you will just have to learn to relax and work on your tolerance levels (as my friends and family keep reminding me).

So I don't know what kind of leader this panelist is (a male one, by the by), but leadership to me is the most out of control situation there is.

The second point had to do with the welfare state, which got quite a bashing. Fair enough, the European welfare state model hasn't performed very well of late. So I understand why the unanimous position on the panel was that the State should get out of the way and let individuals (i.e. entrepreneurs) take over and kick-start the economy. But one of my favourite INSEAD professors had noted earlier on in the day that leaders are like artists. And if that is true, I think it may be worth remembering that, historically, art has blossomed when the State has gotten involved and supported the arts, and shrivelled without that support. So is it so outrageous to suggest that, in a time of crisis, the State should become more, not less implicated by supporting budding leaders (through education, small business loans, what have you)? Long live the welfare state and government involvement, I say - it's just a question of definining what welfare and involvement we need for leadership to blossom like a Titien.

Well, that's enough attempt at seriousness from me. Next up, I will do my best satisfy W's request and go back to some spiritual introspection and what not. In the meantime, please go forth, enjoy the sunshine, lose control and support a local artist.

May 13, 2012

Start spreading the news...

I have finally updated all of the Bali postings with photographic evidence that a) I wasn't kidding around when I said Bali was beautiful and b) I really did get up on that surfboard. If you would like to take a moment to go back and have a peak, please feel free.

Good, you're back? Lovely. Now that that's been taken care of, I really should update you on what's been happening in my life since then. Because there's been some news. If you know me even a little bit, this news will not come as much of a shock. Let's face it, I tend to pull this kind of stunt pretty regularly, every couple of years or so. That's me. I like to be predictable. So I've gone and done it again. I've quit my job.

And believe me, it feels fantastic. Does it concern me that I don't have another method of gainful employment lined up? Of course it does. I'm eccentric, not idiotic. But I'm carrying the very optimistic, positive vibes of Bali in my newly-recovered soul so I'm feeling pretty confident. I also have a small army of friends and unbelievably helpful strangers dragging, heaving and pushing my backside up the mountain towards something brilliant (my God, had anyone realized just how helpful people can be if you just ask? there goes Res the cynic). Hopefully, if all goes well, that something brilliant will be in New York. Because in fact, as much as I do love Bali, and with all due respect to the high priestess Balinese healer, I actually think my soul belongs somewhere within spitting distance of the Statue of Liberty.

So that's where I'm headed.

Well, in a few months anyway. And in the meantime, I'm determined to squeeze every little lemon drop out of Switzerland, mix it into some iced tea and call it a party.

That's a very small NY state around my neck for luck, from a very good friend.