When you look at this article's cover picture, what do you see?
- Maria, a healthcare social worker from Spain, describes this image as the very purpose of her life and work: reaching out to people facing life-threatening diseases and saving them from emotional stress. Maria sees HOPE in the image.
- Martin, a pulmonologist based in Germany, who works with patients at high risk of smoking-related diseases and mortality, sees DESPAIR in the picture. He finds it provocative enough and chooses to use it for a smoking-cessation campaign for his clinic.
Hold on a second! Does the image show HOPE or DESPAIR? Who is right?
Well, both Maria and Martin have been spot-on on what they see in the image. Maria puts herself in the shoes of the one arm reaching out from above (the hero), while Martin puts himself in the shoes of the one going down below (the victim).
In the example above with this article's cover picture as well as with every single piece of digital media - be it a still image, some text, an animation, a video, a piece of audio or any combination of these and other types of rich media - the viewer and the context play crucial roles in describing what is seen. The asset itself is immutable. It is the information used to describe it that varies. Behold! This is the very essence of Digital Assets Management (DAM). Just like that, you know now what metadata is all about! But what is metadata?
More is Less: Metadata turns files into assets
Imagine owning a library of a million books and finding that every single book on the shelves have their spines turned towards the inside of the shelf. The only things you can infer about each book is how big, how thick, maybe how old it is, but that's about it! Searching for and finding the right book in this library is almost mission impossible. So tell me: is this library of books really an asset for you? Or is it just a collection? Let's see.
Now call the collection of digital media a company owns a library of a million files. Would we like to have it catalogued on the shelves with their spines towards the inside? No, of course not! That's why we take our time to give each file a name. Great! Giving it a name is akin to turning the book spines to the outside. Now we can easily navigate through all file names to search and find what we need. But is it enough? Well… no, right?
So let's review one thing, if it is clear that a library of books must be managed with more than just "naming the book", it should be clear for us that a library of files should be managed with more than just giving the file a name, correct? Despite the obvious, the truth in respect to this is that numerous companies worldwide still struggle with managing their digital libraries, which are nothing else than a collection of files, and not really assets to the company.
This is exactly where metadata comes in. Metadata is information used to describe some other data. Thus, the MORE of well-schemed metadata you have, the LESS time, the LESS effort will be needed and the LESS friction there will be to navigate through your collections. It is therefore Digital Asset Management (DAM) and metadata that empower a company's files to become a company's assets. After all, you can't use what you can't find!
And here's where the split between failure and success in DAM starts: while it is clear for everyone that a file must be given a name, successful DAM infrastructures take their time to do it right and upskill users on the power of metadata. In very straightforward words, this means: Educating users that DAM is a not an asset junk drawer; it is a functional platform powered by tags (metadata) that allow us to store, organize, find, summarize, report, share and localize content/assets.
Take the DAM serious
We know now the crucial role users play in DAM. But it does not stop there! There is a lot more human-powered decision-making to this technology-intense topic than it meets the eye. While users feed the system with content, it is the DAM Librarians who make sure everything that goes into it remains organized, quality-assured and properly tagged. That is to say, they are the ones who make sure your 'books' are in the right shelf, with their spines facing outward, with the 'library insert card' properly filled and and and… As bold as it sounds, a company's DAM may be as smart as its DAM librarians allow it to be. So yeah, show these guys some respect! 😉
If you've read this far, you might be wondering: "Seems like this article suggests metadata and librarians are the heart and soul of DAM." If that's what you got so far, you are right, BUT… (Of course there's always a but!) it is important to remember that DAM will not solve all your digital assets/content-related problems at once. However, it may easily serve as a great basis for all of your solutions in the long run. To enable this, take the DAM serious!
The DAM value for business
First of all, DAM is a not a time-bound project that ends after every user has got access to the system. While a company's DAM may start with a platform roll-out and an adoption campaign that last a couple of months or even years, DAM is a program that transcends this phase. After all, users and librarians will change over time. Assets will change as well; they will be reused, becoming new assets that are adapted, localized and even repurposed. Processes around assets will also change; new distribution, approvals and collaboration routines will come into place. There is one thing constant throughout this evolution, though. It is called metadata. - Well yeah! Metadata is a big thing! Like REALLY big!
So, while DAM evolves with the company, it becomes more and more intelligent thanks to the amount of information gathered for its assets. It extends a company's data longevity and unlocks the real value of information by allowing more people to reuse digital assets over the long run. But how to translate this into practical value for business? …for customers?
Well, let's get back to where we started. Imagine this time we had not shown the article's cover image to Maria and Martin, but instead asked them to perform a search inside any given DAM for the following:
- Maria, search for an image that describes the very purpose of your life and work. - Maria's search could look like this: #Hope #Hero #Saving #Rescue
- Now Martin, search for a provocative image for your clinic's smoking-cessation campaign. - Martin's search tags could be: #Despair #Victim #Sinking #NoAir
Two users. Two cases. Two searches. ONE result! God bless metadata!
And this is where the simplest yet most powerful aspect of DAM translates into value for business: it helps delivering data-driven value by understanding that customers, much like Maria and Martin, are different. Had that image been (meta)tagged by/for Martin only, without taking into account the needs and views of Maria, she would probably not find that image when searching for #HOPE, and that asset would be lost in the collection of #DESPAIR.
If content is KING, metadata is the "Hand of the King"
If GOT means nothing to you, ignore this headline 😉
To close, here's some curiosity: statistics have shown that it costs a company on average USD 5,000 for every asset-misuse incident caused by default in metadata. (Source: Brandfolder) So what are you waiting for? Go schedule a call with your company's DAM librarian and learn all you should about your company's own mtadata schemes.
Remember: Digital Assets Management is not about making life easy. Well, it does! But DAM means a lot more. It means delivering customer-centricity for both Marias and Martins of your world. It means responding agile to both HOPE and DESPAIR. DAM! (pun intended!)
I took my mom to Disneyland yesterday - what a magical day! I would not be exaggerating if I said it was one of the most amazing days of my life! And this is not really because we were in Disneyland, but rather because this experience allowed me to deliver best-in-class “customer” satisfaction to my one and only “key account”, my most loyal “client” and my single life-long “investor”: MY MOTHER!
Here’s the thing: I was born to a middle class single mom in the Amazon region in Brazil. Growing up, I witnessed her struggle financially to conciliate the hardships of Brazil’s economic instability and the costs of investing in my future in an society where quality education was a luxury (...and sadly still is!)
In February this year, I spent my birthday in Disneyland with my partner. When we were there, in one of the phone calls with my mom, she said to me: “I am so happy you could give yourself this one thing I could not give you as a child.” - and she meant taking me to Disneyland, of course.
When I heard that, I immediately replied: “No, mom! This is not just me giving myself a gift. This is me enjoying the fruits of YOUR visionary leadership, YOUR right decisions and YOUR investments in OUR future. If anything, this is OUR merit, not just mine! I should be thankful to YOU for being here now!”
Shortly after, I decided to book this trip I am enjoying today and take my mom to Disneyland with me to make this childhood dream come true exactly the way we both wanted it to happen back in the days: together as mother and son!
My mother's Lesson on Success KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) in Life
You know!? Like in many other families, my mom turned out to be my role model of leadership. She taught me a myriad of lessons I use every day in both my personal and professional lives. Among these lessons, there is a particularly valuable one I thought a lot about today: a lesson on how making people happy is a measurement of success.
At the age of 34, I am very grateful for being where I am in life. I consider myself to be a successful man. And when I reflect on what my mom’s values on the subject are, I realise that my success is not really because of achievements collected, but rather because of this “success performance indicator” she taught me. In other words, because of the people I’ve been making happy along my journey. - What a fulfilling journey it’s been!
After this trip to Disneyland, I can say with utmost confidence that I have singled out my most valuable KPI to measure my (!) success at this point in life. This KPI is called “Making my Mother Happy”. And trust me! Seeing my mom’s smile yesterday felt like the 10th star in a 5-star happiness-level rating system.
What a day! Thanks, mom! Love you, mom!
PS: if you are reading this, and are lucky enough to have your mother and/or father still in your life today, I encourage you to give him/her/them a hug, a call or at least send a message saying how much you care. Like in business, delivering satisfaction is a “journey” that requires constant care.
Thanks for reading,
Some time ago I attended a business conference where the company brought together their top leadership team, their best-in-class middle-management, a panel of external experts and some guest customers. What a wonderful couple of days those were! After the event, I felt empowered by the words of the leaders, I felt inspired by the best-practices presented by the management, I felt energized by the external key-note speeches and I felt disrupted by the insights from my interactions with the customers! – Yes, disrupted!
Some days passed and there I found myself again in a meeting room where people were turning their heads to me every time a tech-buzzword popped up: digital activities, social media, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and disruption. Hold on a second! – I thought to myself. The moment the weight of the accountability for disruption fell upon me, I couldn’t help but think of the discussions I had had with customers some days earlier. And just like that, I realized that there was scope for me to shape the way people perceive the role of a digital manager in a context where disruption is not just a trend, but a surviving mechanism to strive in business.
The Disruptors and the Agents of Disruption
Here’s the thing: whereas digital and IT guys like me do deploy technology aiming at redefining businesses and creating competitive advantage in a disruptive manner, the fact is that the real disruptive element out there is called the customer. They are the ones demanding change. They are the ones who decide whether or not to adopt the technologies chosen for their journeys. They are the ones evolving and adapting quickly to fast-paced digital landscapes. They are the ones who will either not react or stop reacting if their customer experience is not delivered the way they want it, when and where they want it. Customers – they are the ones! They are the disruptors!
So what does that imply for us digital strategists? We use technology as a steering tool to drive our customers through journeys we design towards behaviors we define – But this is not all! Our role also encompasses customer behavior management, for we must deep-dive on how our target groups react and respond to every aspect of their experience. And we do so by listening to them and making sure that every touchpoint in the journeys we defined are powered by content, channels and experiences they have chosen. Once again, it is customers who create disruption and it is up to us marketers to deliver the transformation that follows by reacting to it.
And this the differential principle between successful disruptive marketing and failed attempts of going disruptive. While the former reacts to the disruption sparkled by the demand from customers, the latter stumbles on the pitfall I like to call “disruption in a box”, which is nothing else but attempts to be disruptive by going window shopping for innovation before assessing customers’ needs first. Markets have shown that even the most skilled digital experts and the most advanced IT infrastructures are in for big trouble if teams fail to deliver what their customers really want. But then here’s where technology enables disruption at its best: it provides the toolbox to help companies listen. This toolbox is called data, analytics and insights. And this is how the path from disruption to transformation is paved: with data-driven decision making.
The Emotional Component of Data
Now back to the beginning of this article, if asked why I felt disrupted by the customers at that conference I mentioned, the answer is the “cherry on top” of this matter, and what I call the emotional component of data. During one-on-one interactions with the guest customers, I asked them about some of the touchpoints they have in their customer journeys with the company. Their body language and facial expressions, an emotional and very granular customer behavior type of data, disagreed with the insights I had at hand based on the data we had available. This made me raise a flag about a possible pain point.
And this is the beauty of going the extra mile and being out there in the field actually listening to customers and putting ourselves in their shoes. This allows us marketers to generate a type of qualitative data which includes an emotional component that technology is not yet fully able to interpret. The insights gathered from those interactions disrupted my status-quo. Again I repeat, it all started with the customers.
In follow-up, all I did was get back to my data and rephrase the questions I asked. In doing so, the disruption became an opportunity for transformation, for it was the emotional component of data that forced me to trigger an analytical skill I did not even know I had: active listening to data, whereby I paraphrase and reflect back on what my insights tell me.
For instance: If my data reveals that ‘the click-through-rate (CTR) of a particular email campaign is 3%, and 40% out of these are first-time clickers (1.2% out of the total)’, I rephrase and re-query my data as follows: ‘Approximately 2 in 5 people who reacted to my email campaign have done so for the first time. By asking the data even further, I discover that 15% of the total campaign population had never reacted to any campaigns at all. Thus, had I sent out this message only to this segment of the total, I would have reached a CTR of 8% instead (meaning 1.2% out of the 15% of the total).’ And the conversation with my data continues. This leads to further questions: “The content of my campaign may be of particular interest for those who had never interacted with us before” which also means that “the content may not be relevant for people with whom we had already started our virtual conversation with and we should split these campaigns in two”. – From customer behavior through satisfaction towards content performance. Active listening to data can take us all the way to digital marketing excellence.
There you go! Once the questions asked changed, the answers shined new light on some possible customer satisfaction metrics. That’s when I began to find agreement between what my data says and the frown I had observed on my customers’ face when I met them in person. It almost felt like being able to see data frown at me this time. 🙂 So that’s it! The bottom-line here is clear: listen actively to your customer. . . and to your data. And remember that sometimes it is easy to overlook the fact that customers are people with emotions just like us – so let’s not take these cues for granted!
Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment and/or share! Cheers!
In its simplest definition, digital transformation is nothing more than change by technology. It is the exercise of improving existing business processes and supporting the emergence of new ones by making use of (new) advanced hardware and software technologies, tools, platforms and applications.
Name an industry and anyone can find a job description or job title that entails digital transformation as a role or responsibility. After all, it is easy to agree that businesses in virtually every field understand the importance of advancing with technology in order to meet their evolving market realities and continue to operate and deliver value to customers.
However wide-spread digital as a topic within business strategy is, it is still a challenging matter within organizations. And the reason why highly skilled digital transformation teams with advanced technologies fail to bring about change is more often than not the same: the varying degrees of digital literacy outside the boundaries of their teams’ silos.
Digital capability building is, therefore, the exercise of bringing people into the digital transformation equation and sending out a message that it is not all about changes in technology, but also about enabling and empowering people to carry on the change while focusing on outcomes and consistently delivering value.
Therefore, in a wider-scope definition, digital transformation can also be seen as change by capability, for only a mix of skills, knowledge and understanding of the role of technology in supporting business functions can establish an organization-wide digital culture, where people are empowered to continuously get comfortable in digital spaces.
Digital Capabilities Fundamentals: as long as we all know it, it is OK if only some of us understand it and even fewer of us can do it
Knowledge, understanding and skills. We might have seen these capability words being used interchangeably because they are intrinsic parts of our educational and professional lives. Sometimes they seem to work out as synonyms, but in our case, they don’t. Here’s a practical example of the difference between these within a digital business context.
|Knowledge refers to the absorption of information.||“I know that I must obtain an opt-in permission from my customers in order to reach out to them via email.”|
|Understanding is the ability of taking knowledge and make meaning out of it.||“I understand that emailing customers whose opt-in I do not possess may bring legal and financial consequences to my company and that I have to use an email marketing platform to filter out those customers when sending out mailings. Moreover, I have to explicitly offer an opt-out option to customers I send messages to.”|
|Skills refer to the proficiency of applying acquired knowledge and the quality of being able of doing something.||“I can manage my customers’ opt-in & out via our email marketing platform and I am able to create and send out mailings to opt-in customers only, as well as include an opt-out link in the body of the message.”|
While these three capability words differ in concept, they all have one thing in common: they can be obtained through learning, training and experience – and this is exactly where the magic happens. The higher the degree of digital literacy of a company, the faster and more efficient its migration into digital spaces will be. And this is why digital capability building is key to digital transformation.
Having said this, it is important to highlight that it does not mean that everyone should possess the same level of skills, the same degree of understanding or even the same amount of knowledge. Not at all!
A Customer-centric approach to Digital Capability Planning
Customer-centricity has become the buzz word of every marketing plan for a reason – it is the only way to survive in an ever-more demanding and competitive ecosystem. So if external customers are at the center of every marketing plan, digital transformation leads should also put the internal customers first too. Here’s a possible approach:
- Start with mapping the stakeholders, profiling the audience and creating personas with different needs and roles within the bigger digital transformation picture of the organization. Make sure to include people at all levels and go for the key influencers and the most likely ambassadors and advocates first.
- Different personas take different amounts of time and resources in developing understanding and skills. This is why capability building is not a one-time event, but rather a customer journey with multiple touchpoints that give the target group a regular opportunity to think, start conversations and most importantly, build up a community.
- Keep in mind that touchpoints do not imply training or coaching. To explain that, a quote from the Nobel Prize winner in Literature Bernard Shaw is brought forward: “If you teach a man anything, he will never learn”. That is to say, learning is an active process. People learn by doing. Thus, to empower people with digital knowledge, understanding and skills, let them think and do digital.
Last but not the least, since digital transformation is a subject within the domain of change management, I close this article with a personal and holistic comment from my own experience. Having worked with start-ups, SMEs, governments and corporations, I have navigated through a variety of organizational (digital) cultures, all of which taught me several lessons on managing change from the bottom to senior levels of a company. Out of all lessons learned, I cannot think of a more precise and indisputable truth about change management other than consistency.
To illustrate that, imagine an eyedropper filled with red ink. When we let a drop of ink fall into a large glass of water, the red color will dissolve and we would see no change in the color of the water in the glass. But if we do the same thing continuously over time, however, the water would slowly turn pink until it fully embodies the tones of red. And this is how change happens – one drop at a time… consistently.
Well, having said that the key to digital transformation is people, then every person this article reaches means one more droplet of red ink in some company’s digital transformation glass. Cheers to that!
I once got an outlook calendar invitation that came with the note "Sorry for the short notice. We hope you can make it. We need your creativity." I juggled some commitments around to find time for my client and accepted that next-day invite.
I sat through that meeting listening to the team share one idea after another for the problem they had at hand. At a certain point, it became clear to me that there was no shortage of creativity at all - the room was full of ideas! Yet, two hours later, there was no consensus (nor commitment) on the way forward.
I left that meeting quite puzzled as I once again witnessed the initially-demonstrated positive attitude towards creativity suddenly turn so weak and disintegrate in the face of the risks and uncertainties all their exciting ideas posed to their company. So I felt frustrated. I felt like I had not delivered what was expected of me. I had been called in to contribute with my creativity - my ideas. But then I felt somehow overpowered by the creative energy going on. So I asked myself: why did they invite me at all? Why do they need me here?
Later that day, almost like a sign from above, while scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, I stumbled upon an article entitled "Creativity vs. Innovation in the landscape of startups". As I read it through, I had one of those 'a-ha' moments! Quoting https://medium.com/swlh/creativity-vs-innovation-42fde2e70201:
Creativity happens in your head.
Innovation happens in the world.
That was it! I knew that creativity was abundant in that team! It was the follow-through energy needed to bring those ideas to reality that was scarce. And it suddenly became clear that I had been called into that meeting room not because they 'needed my creativity', but because they' needed my innovation energy to act as a driver to make their ideas a reality'.
Innovators as Competitive Advantage
There are many ways to define creativity and innovation as well as their overlaps and differences. No matter how we choose to do it, it is imperative that these are not treated as synonyms. While creativity is in the line of thinking and ideation, innovation concerns the implementation of ideas. Moreover, we should also not assume that creativity automatically leads to innovation. The value of an idea only exists once it is used and verified.
Therefore, creativity alone is not able to create value, whereas innovation is the process of validating creativity, making it real, tangible, measurable and hopefully valuable. That is to say, innovation may not always be successful. After all, to require that there be success in advance would render void its chance of ever getting tried at all. The bottom-line here is that the existence of a system of making creativity yield innovation is critical.
By projecting this notion onto an organization, it is pretty much like saying that any team or anyone can be creative whereas not every team nor everyone can be innovative. Innovators are the competitive advantage that tell teams within an organization and companies within an industry apart. For these scarce resources are those who have the energy, courage, expertise and will-power to turn creativity into innovation, in other words, ideas into actions.
After it all dawned on me, I went back to my client with a "Challenge accepted!" mindset and not only I played my role to drive their ideas into action, but I also felt obliged to empower them to bring an innovator into their team.
This week, more than a year after that meeting, I got a call from that company again. They just wanted to share that the motivation to hire a Digital Transformation and Innovation Manager into their team was the piece of the puzzle they were missing to - in their own words - "…make our team truly complementary. We already had an idea farm, but now we have an idea laboratory."
I was 17 years old when I came out as a gay man to my family. I was still grieving my first heartbreak when I was struck with my first real loss – my grandma died. Shortly after, the deteriorating relationship between a gay single child and an orphan single mother, both trying to live under the same roof, made me want to leave home – and I did. I was 18 years old when this series of events led me to think for the first time that I was on the edge of a breakdown. And it was at this very same point in my life that I had my first grand awakening – a turning point driven by an avalanche of challenges. I was 19 years old when I left my home country to start again.
In facing the challenges life had posed me, I actively sought God for the first time. Born and raised Jewish, my internal pursuit for spirituality and godliness started within my own creed. I confess that when I left home seeking to find myself, I was not sure how the divine side of life would help me on my way – but I had to believe in something. It is interesting to me now that my pursuit to understand myself started with me posing questions about God. In getting closer to and deeper within myself, I concluded that God and I have something in common: we are both the result of purely uninvestigated beliefs.
Imagine trying to solve the equation x = (1+1) * 3 if we started from the assumption that 1+1 = 3. Would we be able to reach the result? Yes, we would! The answer would be 32, or simply 9. That is to say that finding the result for the equation is independent from the assumptions we made for it. If we start off assuming one plus one equals three, nine is the correct answer for this equation, which does not mean that nine is the true result for this problem. This is so because we used the right arithmetic with the wrong assumption to begin with. Therefore, the solution found depends on the used hypothesis – in other words, the beliefs.
Having this said, is it any wonder that sometimes we find it so hard to find true solutions to our problems in life? How often do we go about them using the math right, but stumbling upon the assumptions we make about them? Bingo! This is the reminder I need on my wall right now!
It has been fourteen years since I faced my first major turning point in life. Today, after having overcome minor and major crossroads, I feel on the verge again. Decisions I have made brought me here. And it is time for me to scrutinize the set of beliefs I carry along with me into the next chapter of my life.
Well, you see? I turned out to become a marketing guy. When speaking marketing, I normally say that one of my pluses is my affinity to telling stories in contrast to simply conveying messages. And this so because of my passion for the reverse engineering used to get information into the minds of people by using anecdotes, parables, folktales and allegories. As ancient as education itself and still frequently used in schools to satisfy the students’ needs for answers, storytelling is an art.
Making use of this invaluable resource, I hereby share mementos of my past, which shall guide me into this imminent new beginning.
I was told this story by an old man while riding the NYC metro from Kingston Avenue in Brooklyn to 34 Street-Penn Station in Manhattan somewhen in the Fall of 2005:
There was once a very wise king who observed his teenage son developing a very strong feeling of superiority, arrogance and greed due to his wealth and position as heir to the throne. The king decided to summon his young prince and commanded him to go spend seven days and nights among the people in their kingdom. The young boy was scared at first thinking he would be deprived of his wealth for so long, until his father handed him a one-million-schilling coin to spend on his journey.
Carrying his one-million-schilling coin with pride, the boy crossed the walls of the castle with everything already planned in his head. He would pay some locals to provide him the best accommodation available in the kingdom, he would pay the men of the city watch to guard and protect him, he would pay the best butchers, farmers, bakers and cooks in town to provide him with the best quality food money could buy in that region and he would hire some local artists and entertainers to amuse him with their artistries. This way, those seven days and nights would pass very quickly.
He started his journey looking for lodging. He knocked at every single inn and guesthouse in the village, only to be dismissed from each one of them for the same reason: “The night costs half a schilling only. We cannot accept a one-million-schilling coin. We have no way to give you change for that amount of money”. The boy then started to get thirsty and hungry. He tried to buy water and food everywhere, only to find out that his one-million-schilling coin could not buy him even a loaf of bread and a glass of water. A whole week worth of meals would cost him a schilling only. The absurd wealth he was carrying with him was more than enough for all he needed. Yet, his inability of turning the one-million-schilling coin in one million one-schilling coins left him on the streets without water, food and safety.
The story continues. As a matter of fact, it does not really matter how it ends. The “lesson learned” part of the plot has been reached. Keep that it mind.
I was told this story by a middle-aged homeless lady I met in Uniondale, New York, on March 26th, 2006. I spent that night on the city’s train station in her company after losing the last train back home. Her name was Virginia.
Virginia told me that when she was a teenager, she had serious issues with her self-esteem. She said she was not one of the popular girls and that she struggled to fit at least among the smart ones. Back then, her mother was a high-school teacher. And every time her mother would find her having one of her ‘moments’, she would reach out to her and tell her this story:
There was a time when classes of the same grade were divided by taking the students’ overall grades from the previous year as the only criteria to split them into different groups. The best students were grouped together in Class A whereas students with lower grades were grouped separately in so-called “special classes” named Class B and Class C.
Since this method was being met with strong criticism by parents of those students with the lowest performance, the school decided to replace it. Therefore, a new grouping method was developed. It consisted in splitting the students equality in different groups, so that each class would have a mix of top, average and below-average students. The educators’ intention in doing so was to promote mutual support and group work among the pupils. The class naming remained Class A, Class B and Class C.
After running under this new system for a while, the school was alarmed with the results. Statistics showed that students from the old-system’s Class A (the top ones), who had been moved to Class B or Class C, experienced a significant drop in their performance. The same happened to students from classes B who were moved to class C. At the same time, students from the old-system’s Class C, who were allocated to Class A under the new system, experienced significant improvement in their grades. The same happened to students from class B who were moved to class A.
Virginia told me this story as she talked about the hardships that made her become a homeless person. As of today I can still remember with much clarity when she looked at me and said:
Life fucked me up, you know? Wrong people! That’s why I ain’t got no home. These streets are my home now, boy! . . . [pause] . . . You’re sitting in my living room! . . . [laughs, sighs] . . . And you know why I ain’t got no home, boy? . . . [pause – she looks deep into my eyes] . . . The Lord knows. The good Lord knows my mother was right . . . [pause] . . . Every day of my life – every fucking day of my life I think that I should have listened to her. I was a class A student . . . [raises voice] . . . I was a class A citizen for fuck’s sake! And then came those God-dammed motherfuckers who put me in class C – not in school, boy, not in school – in life! . . . [speaking slower and quieter] . . . These God-damned motherfuckers played with me. And I was stupid . . . [pause] . . . I was put in Class C. I believed I was Class C. I became Class C . . . [I remained silent trying to find words to fill the void] . . .
My one-off encounter with Virginia is a memorable moment in my life and I could share numerous other stories about that night. But once again, the “lesson learned”part has been reached. Time to move on.
I just stopped and read this whole post from the beginning again. I wonder how many readers will see its core message as the product of a positive or a negative state of mind. Straightforwardly speaking, this is nothing but the good and worthy of me facing challenges and reacting to these with deep dives into my web of memories. This is how I learn best.
Well, it is incredible to think that I was told these two stories more than a decade ago. Still, their value has never felt so pertinent like RIGHT (pause) NOW. As I sit here today writing these lines, I find myself in an intermediate state between the hollowness of not belonging to the past-present and not having yet reached the future either. Decisions I made brought me here and I have once again hit the crossroads. I am on the verge of a turning point and as I look in the mirror now, I see a young prince carrying a million-schilling coin in his hands. I also see a Class A student who was moved to Class C. This guy in the mirror has a lot of stories to tell the 19-year-old version of himself. And because of that, this guy in the mirror wants to make sure that this time, one plus one equals two. Cheers to new beginnings!
“Ladies and gentlemen, we would like the next few minutes of your attention as we will be showing our safety demonstration and emergency instructions.”– said one of the cabin crew members shortly before flight OS356 took off. As the announcement started, I adjusted my noise-cancelling headphones and concentrated on the chosen take-off song playing on repeat: “Zombie”by Maître Gims.
For the next two hours, my life and safety would be in the hands of the airplane crew, but if something went wrong, I (and my life) depended on the key information delivered during those few minutes I deliberately disregarded.
Wait a sec! I deliberately disregarded a safety warning, which could eventually save my life? Why?
As the flight attendants kept on performing the safety demonstrations in front of me, I heard nothing but Maître Gims playing the following words in my ears:
“Ma raison somnolait. Ma conscience me conseillait.
Mon subconscient m’déconseillait. Mais mon esprit veut s’envoler”
( “My reason was asleep. My conscience advised me.
My subconscious advised me against it. But my mind wants to fly away” )
Something bugged me. So I took my computer out of the backpack and started writing some lines. In that moment, I wondered: Do I ignore safety warnings?
Four intense (really intense!)months passed since flight OS356 took off and safely landed back in Vienna. Eventful months these were and lots of thoughts have come and gone in respect to the question I asked myself. As I dwelled in the subject for a while, conclusions started to take shape.
Initially, it came to my attention that it is common sense that we, humans, have an innate instinct towards survival. However, while this instinct does exist, we are also vulnerable to a weakness in our psychological decision-making process, which consciously or not, leads us to a constant cost/benefit analysis of the decisions we take, including those involving risk-taking. That is to say, if the perceived danger is greater than the benefit, a person is more inclined to comply with the risk warnings; whereas if the benefit is perceived to be greater than the danger, a person’s compliance to these risk warnings are susceptible to decline.
Taking this concept a step further, I landed on some writings about the “Risk Homeostasis Theory”. Coined by Gerald Wilde, this concept suggests that a person’s calculation of risk is based on the so-called “target risk”, in other words, a person’s perceived acceptable level of risk. This theory states that we take into account the expected benefits and costs of both the risky as well as safe behavior and try to maximize our gain by taking additional risk in case the perceived risk is below the target risk as well as minimize our loss by behaving safely in case the perceived risk is above our acceptable level.
Taking this theory into account, we can note that a safety warning only influences us to act with care if it manages to convince us to perceive that our behavior would be more risky if we do not pay attention to it. Likewise, a safety warning can actually lead us to behave more risky or take less precautions if the warning sign is perceived as exaggerating the danger, for our perceived level of danger is below the actual level. (Sounded complicated? Read it once or twice again slowly before you continue!)
BAAAM! It kicked in! I suddenly found a parallel between the risk-taking thoughts I had been reading about and an ambivalent intimate struggle of mine: insecurity due to (a) failure and (b) perfectionism. And this is why.
- Failure, as a negative contributor to happiness levels, ends up influencing our self-esteem and self-confidence, raising our insecurity levels. Yet it might as well serve to our advantage, once we manage to accept it as part of the process, let the frustration out and learn the lessons from our setbacks, failing forward towards success.
- Perfectionism also makes us insecure when we end up punishing ourselves about not being good enough. However, we can still enjoy the benefit of having high standards, trying our best and working hard if we understand that there are pieces of the outcome, which are at some degree out of our control.
[Reminder to self: read the last two paragraphs 3 times before continuing.]
Well, being the product of a single-mother/only-child upbringing, I went a long and lonesome way to learn how to deal with such insecurity issues. For instance, it caused me to spend a reasonable amount of time monitoring my body and my environment for signs that suggested that something was about to go off – that failure was imminent. I struggled to be able to find the balance between allowing my mind to rest and pushing it to do more to protect myself.
As a result of this condition, I unconsciously taught myself to identify warning signs of failure. Moreover, I learned to create my very own safety warnings as self-defence mechanisms. And this is, paradoxically, where I failed – for in doing so, I was too unkind to myself.
As the risk-taking theory indicated, safety warnings can lead us to behave more risky or take less precaution if the warning sign is perceived as exaggerating the danger. And this is where I failed big time – by allowing my defense mechanism to create exaggerated warning signs.
In doing so to overprotect myself, I ended up believing in the illusion that the risk was much lower than the actual danger and in terms pushed me to take even higher risks. Somewhat like a high-risk bet with high odds, the result was a substantial reward in case of success. On the other hand, I ended up maximizing my loss when failure did actually occur – which caused insecurity to take over, only getting me stuck in a vicious circle.
After dwelling in this topic for some time, I wrote this text as a reminder of the self-knowledge journey I went through. I always say I am not afraid of my weaknesses. I am afraid of not being able to see them, or even worse, of ignoring them. And this is exactly the stage I was in when I boarded flight OS356 – unaware of the fact that I was dealing with safety warnings the wrong way all along. As aforementioned, warnings can desensitize us by overstating the danger, decreasing therefore our precaution and increasing the likelihood of more risk taking. And this is exactly where I was: dealing with the wrong assessments of levels of risk, danger, reward and loss.
In doing this exercise, I am expecting to allow myself to be able to improve my cognitive skills to assess these from a more rational point of view and not simply letting my unconscious ability to calculate the benefits and costs of risk-taking give me the result to the equation. Moreover, I am looking forward to lowering the bars of my very own safety warnings, allowing myself to deal with real levels of risk and not gambling for unnecessary higher winnings. After all, the stake is high. The stake is ME!
“We broke up. I was single again. But I still loved him.” This is how the story ended. Not an extraordinary finale. In fact, cliché – I know! However, this statement is WRONG! And this is why.
Two months passed by. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was paying visit to a married friend with kids. I was sitting on the couch sipping from my bottle of beer, while unenthusiastically browsing through the dating profiles of other men on my phone and silently observing the kids getting ready to play on the living room floor.
Hannah, my friend’s daughter, had just arrived hand-in-hand with the neighbour’s son David, her so-called boyfriend. They played harmoniously for a while – until the great crisis broke out and Hannah started crying. David had involuntarily dropped her Lego creation on the floor, bringing whatever it was down to pieces. In anger, Hannah shouted “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.” while David watched her lose her temper without showing any empathy.
For a moment, I watched the scene unfold without giving much thought to it, until it unexpectedly hit me: I had just witnessed a completely extrapolated love and heartbreak story unfold in front of me. And of course, my anxious mind would not let it pass without raising more questions.
“When asked to tell stories about love, how many of these are actually stories of heartbreaks?” – I asked myself, slapping idealistic and naïve 17-year-old me right on the face.
Never mind! That day went by, weeks passed, and that food for thought started to grow in my mind:
17 years old – I loved him. And he said no.
24 years old – I loved him. And I said no.
28 years old – I loved him. And we said too much.
31 years old – I loved him. And we did not say enough.
In every single story, I remember the ecstasy of falling in love, the joy of saying these three words for the first time and the thrill of hearing him say it back to me. (Un)fortunately, I also remember the tormenting and nerve-wracking feeling of saying “I love you” as a reminder of how I should be feeling instead of an assertion of what I really felt. If falling in love was instantaneous and effortless, the end of it was time-consuming and excruciating.
And then what? Did love end for me?
Well, my relationships did! Even though they were meant to be “for better or for worse”, they all came to an end somewhere in between. I always apologized. Sometimes I said sorry for being too much. Sometimes for not being enough. And sometimes I had to learn to apologize for things I did not really understand. Like this, between gratitude and forgiveness, the silence and the moments of solitude led me to find closure and move on.
And this is it. Variances in the levels of passion, intimacy and commitment have compromised my relationships to the men my love was attached to when I was 17, 24, 28 and 31. And as these relationships ended, my love did not.
Each of my cherished partners departed and I started walking the path of life alone again. I detached my love from them, giving room for a growing feeling of respect, caring, appreciation and most and above all, thankfulness for all we lived together. At this stage, my love was still attached to the memories, just not anymore to the man standing in front of me.
Thus: No! Love did not end for me! I did not have to stop loving before learning or choosing to love again. Every time my heart broke, it broke open – it broke free. Then I realized: I never really fell out of love. I fell out of the persons my love was attached to. And in doing so, I moved on to the next chapter in life carrying along with me all the loving energy accumulated in the previous one.
But love continues. As its load gets too heavy to carry around, it eventually attaches and it stays – not because one is falling in love again, but because a choice has been deliberately made. And when this happens, all heartbreaks suddenly make sense.
So again, “We broke up. I was single again. But I still loved.” This is how the opening line truly reads. But I still loved – not him, just loved!
Half-my-life ago, teenager me used to ask himself how the adult life surrounding him had come to be. He was quite certain that he would never grow old – that things would always remain the same. He was sure that time would pass and years later, he would still be fighting the daily “Mother vs. Morning Sluggishness” duel, praying for the math teacher to forget to collect his homework and bragging about his newest video-game cartridge.
A couple of Disney movies later, reality dawned on him and what he expected to be the “And he lived happily ever after” part of the plot suddenly revealed itself as the “Once upon a time” page in his book of life. And that is when he realized that all he had lived until then was nothing more than a foreword. And as such, it had been written by a third party.
I was twenty years old. My relationship to my family was at the worst it has ever been. I had just quit my student job and used all the money I had saved to pay my student debt. I was about to start my third university program after two cast-aside attempts and I was still not sure the third program I had chosen actually fit me. My relationship to friends was a catastrophe after repetitive disappointments accumulated during our rapidly-changing adolescence. And well, I was single. After all, not even I could handle myself while having all this happen at the same time I was going through sexual and religious identity crises. I was a complete mess with no direction for life. And this is just a rather polished summary of the first section, which I believed was being fully written by me in my book of life. Fact is: it was not (yet), but I did not know it.
But then things changed. Of course – things always change. And as they did, I managed to find my way through to my comfort zone. And there I found myself working hard to pay the bills. Then I worked harder because working to pay the bills made me need more than I did before. And this more I needed had a price tag I could not afford, so the bills also went up and then I had to work even harder. I longed for Fridays so that I could party away the anxiety I had accumulated during the week. And I dreaded Mondays when reality would fall upon me. I remained stuck in my so-called comfort zone for long enough until I could virtually feel young me laughing at how ridiculous I looked like running in circles trying to catch my own tail.
My early adulthood concern about being lost was suddenly not an issue anymore. I was not stuck in inertia, for at least life was moving somewhere and I was letting myself be steered along with it. For every turn of events, I quickly ran after the next best comfort zone, where I fooled myself into a kind of pleasure triggered by the vicious consumption of my authenticity. Self-indulgence had taken over.
Fortunately, things changed again. At this point I could write that “One day I woke up and, and, and…” but the fact is that the crave for a complete life-makeover did not hit me when the sun came up. It was only after many miserable and lonely lazy Sundays after the sun went down and I was alone in bed waiting to fall asleep that I felt this inexplicable realization that there was something beyond the walls of my comfort zone. As I peeked at it, it was clear to me that a much longer and winding road was in front of my eyes. Nevertheless, little did I know that despite being lengthier, that road did not demand fancy shoes nor a suit and tie to be walked upon, that road did not stop me every now and then to collect toll fees and that road allowed me to walk, stroll, jump, run, drive, take a ride or even fly along its path. However, or should I say, moreover, that road had a price to be paid for each step along its way – and ‘detachment’ was its currency.
And there I was. The utmost uncomfortable time of all when I had to learn to detach from places, things, people and ideas so that I could reach new places, need ever less and less things, surround myself by different people and cherish never-before-imagined ideas. And I did not only pull through it – I loved it! And symbolically speaking, my mind was the engine, positive thinking was the fuel, diligence was the additive and creativity was the motor oil.
Fond of sharing, I have browsed through several of my personal writings and dug into my mind to compile what I consider to be the backbone and the doctrine of my personal road towards detachment. These are:
- Pursue joy as a lifestyle. After all, happiness is only a circumstance.
- Think positive. And remember that positivity is a skill; and as such, it can be learned.
- Make gratitude an autonomous action, not a sentiment. And thank yourself daily.
- Fight for success. But use value and effect as measurements, not effort nor money.
- And remember that significance is granted, not inherent. You can define what, where, when and how much (significance) to confer.
Years have passed since I entered the ‘detachment’ road and started learning and practicing the lessons learned. I have had good and bad days, sunny and rainy Sunday afternoons as well as successes and pitfalls. Yet, never have I felt like my life was being written by third-parties as if running in auto-pilot mode. By learning to detach, I have managed to live in a reality created by my dreams and not in an illusion moulded by the expectations of the world surrounding me. I took control.
Moreover, letting go of things, losing people, leaving places behind and revising morals became so much easier as part of my routine once I got used to how seasonal everything in life is, including life itself. And as I keep on writing stories on my book of life, I rejoice about how exciting it is to let go of all that I am accustomed to and to move on to all that I designed for myself despite not knowing them for sure yet… in other words, my future.
And it feels so right to be the writer and the story teller instead of the character and the story told. Detaching is finding the 60 seconds for every minute of life.
I was twelve years old when I first boarded a plane to travel. The excitement I felt when flying for the first time – “Oh wow!”. This is one of those things from my childhood I remember very clearly – as if it happened yesterday. It was 1997 and I was not on my way to a family vacation like most of my friends, who would then come back and share stories about going places during their holidays. I boarded that flight feeling extremely excited about leaving my life behind. I was not going on vacation. I was about to start a year-long exchange program in a boarding school in Rio de Janeiro. And I was not ‘being sent’ there by a careless mom who wanted a child-free year for herself. On the contrary. I had to fight my overprotective mother to convince her to allow me to leave home at such an early age. And I thank her to this day that she did so.
On board of that flight, I remember thinking about the new and different life I had just started, the new people I would meet and who my new friends would be, the new places I would visit and how my new home and neighborhood would look and feel like, the new types of food I would try and those I would miss, the new clothes I would wear to adapt to the different weather conditions, the new routine I would have and well, the new adventures and stories about them I would have to tell afterwards.
It all sounds very exaggerated knowing it refers to the story of a twelve-year-old boy. Nevertheless, deciding to say goodbye to my ‘stable’ life and childhood did have an impact on me and this is why out of several memories and stories of my past, I may not remember the many vacations and holidays I had, but I do remember very clearly the first time I ever travelled.
Now at the age of 31, I’ve had the opportunity to travel numerous times, to visit hundreds of cities in dozens of countries and “Yes! I am addicted to travel!”. I know many people who travel as much or even more than I do, but I often distance myself from a comparison, for each one differs in his or her approach to traveling. And here I do not refer to the widely discussed difference between being a tourist and being a traveler. Here I refer to the difference between being a ‘travel enthusiast’ and someone like me, a ‘travel addict’.
In my personal quest of self-discovery, I have always wondered why I find it so easy to be everywhere, yet so hard to be back. And this is exactly where the thin red line between an enthusiast and an addict lies.
Every time I come back from a trip, I feel empowered by the ecstasy of the journey that just came to an end. I enjoy the ‘kick’ that keeps running through me and it keeps me active for days or even weeks while ‘welcome back hugs’ are given and stories are told.
But then my ‘fix’ starts to wear off and I slowly become aware that ‘home’ is in every and single way exactly how I had left it – only I changed. And as the inertia of what surrounds me continues to slow me down, I feel exhausted. I start craving for more of my ‘drug’.
I miss the different people I met, the different landscapes I saw, the different places I visited, the different things I discovered, the different lessons I learned, the different experiences I had, the different food I ate and the different feeling of simply ‘being there’. I need to get ‘high’ again! No matter what! And honestly speaking, my addiction sees no coordinates. No matter where I am going next, I just need to set myself in motion again. I need to be surrounded by the unknown again. I just need more of ‘being there’ in order to satisfy my cravings.
Well, as aforementioned, from a very early age, I did not only dream about leaving home and going to foreign places, I dreamt about making foreign places home to me. And from this I learned that home is not a static spot I would always come back to, but rather a dynamic ‘sense of belonging somewhere’. And this ultimately made me figure out that traveling was not a search for things and places, but a quest to find myself enabled by the foreign and unknown nature of every environment I immersed myself into. In other words, by traveling and learning to belong, I allow my senses to respond to special stimuli that in turn empowers the unknown in me.
The American writer Henry Miller once stated: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”. And well, seeing refers to one of our senses. Sight, along with smell, taste, hearing and touch are the input sensors that react to the stimuli that bring pleasure to life. And the more I challenge my senses, the more fine-tuned they become and thus, the greater I enjoy life and myself.
So, after having experienced several terrible post-travel scenarios and after having literally fought myself and the depressive state of mind following my return from a trip, I learned that by exposing my senses to experiencing ‘home’ more intensively, I end up setting ‘home’ in motion, making my ‘kick’ last longer. After all, my tweaked senses and I are the only things that change after I return from a trip. And with my more precise ‘sensor gear’, I can ‘feel home’ differently every time I return. As of now, I can definitely feel my ‘sense of belonging’ to this place I call home. “How long will it last?” – I ask myself. For that I have no answer.
Well, making my ‘kick’ last is my ‘come back’ priority. And in the meantime, while I have not found a holistic therapy for my addiction (nor I wish to do so, I think 🙂 ), I keep on discovering the ‘unknown me’ when traveling and getting to know the ‘undiscovered home’ when I come back.
I wrote this text after returning from a trip, which took place following a 40-day-long stay at home. This was the longest I spent without traveling in three years.
And last but not the least, I keep on dreaming and planning more and more trips. This is an essential part of my therapy after all: knowing when I will get my next ‘fix’.