Saturday, August 30, 2014

Week Thirty-five – Happiness!

“What a wonderful day! 

Someone is bound to come and mess it up!”

Happiness is something that often is contagious and makes you feel good, and it comes in different shapes and sizes. If you could bottle up happiness and sell it, you’d become a millionaire, and many would love you for it. Many people spend their entire lives searching for happiness and many never find it. You know when happiness has stroke you because it gives you that warm feeling inside which comforts you and makes you want to shout from the rooftop. In short, happiness is something that should be part of out lives, as it gives you positive energy, great attitude and helps you get by every day, giving you a wonderful day, even if someone comes and messes it up!

But why is happiness something so hard to get, to achieve or to make part of our lives? I am not saying it does not exits, but often it only comes in short busts and some time too few and far in between, yet it is so easy to do, to be happy. This week I was witness to how simple and easy it is to be happy, and what a difference is makes in your life. Now some say that there are several factors that affect people’s moods, and that it is hard to be happy when everything around you seems dark, when everything you know is negative and the whole environment around you is grey. With that in mind, my experience this week may be close to this argument as I was in sunny southern Spain where from 7.30 am to 9.30 pm you had cloudless blue skies and temperatures reaching 39 degrees! And everyone you met was happy!

But I do think that it is more that just the weather that makes people happy, I think it is cultural. I think that it is people’s attitudes that make a difference. The picture I chose for this blog and the quote in it were taken from a restaurant I had dinner this week in Marbella, Spain. This is an area called Andalucía and as I began to get inspired by Andalucía and it’s people, I knew I had to dedicate this week’s blog to a great group of people like no other, “los Andaluces!”

But let me give you an example of what I saw. There are many people out there that are positive and inspiring, many nations whose people are great examples to many of us for their outlook of life, but here, in Andalucía, was different. We are talking about a group of people from a province of Spain, they are Spaniards and in many ways their traditions and ways of living are similar to other provinces of Spain. However, here people really knew the meaning of life. Everywhere we went we met someone who after 5 minutes had made you feel comfortable and had opened up his or her lives to you. In here there are no barriers, no borders and no inhibitions. From the taxi driver, to the owner of a restaurant, to a total stranger in the streets, they would welcome you, talk to you, crack a joke, and tell you things about them unlike in many places where people wouldn’t even share anything if they’ve known them for years! But what was amazing is that this came natural to them, it was not a gimmick of a group of people who try to impress tourist, it is in their nature, to be happy. And when you are happy you are friendly and therefore you are open, you have no predigest against anyone and anyone can be your friend. When you are happy you tell a joke, and when you tell a joke you laugh, that laughter makes you feel good and if you feel good you feel comfortable. If you feel comfortable with someone you feel you can open up and if you do then all barriers that surround humans go down, all borders become obsolete and there is no longer a reason why not to share things with that person. This I think is the simple formula that people from this part of Spain apply to their lives.

It is, of course, hard to achieve for one simple reason; we are not always happy. Think about it. When you are not happy you are not friendly, if you are not friendly you are not in the mood for jokes, if you are not in the mood you won’t smile let alone laugh and therefore you don’t make people feel comfortable, if they don’t feel comfortable they can’t open up and communication breaks down, barriers come up and it is hard to share anything with people. In short, it all comes down to being happy!

Ok, so this week I was touched by the abundance of happiness Andaluces showed me, and I was of course on holiday, the weather was hot and there was not a single cloud in the sky, but the biggest lesson for me was that positivism, happiness, attitude or whatever you want to call it is contagious, it is an art and it is so essential in our lives. And yes, it can be a wonderful day and someone can come and mess it up, but only us have the power to drive this and make sure we remain happy all of our lives. The benefits are endless, and the rewards are great. Just remember the chain reaction formula I describe earlier on, one thing leads to another, and it all comes down to you. So I dare you to be happy, not just for a moment or two, a day or a month; but be happy all of your life, laugh out loud, tell a joke, smile, share with people things about you and what makes you tick, open up to those you meet, say good morning to a stranger in the street, and don’t let anyone come and mess up your wonderful day!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Week Thirty-four – Switching off!

Life has changed dramatically with technology and being reachable 24/7 is something we cannot avoid, but can we and should we switch off?

Workation with Friends and Family! always time for everything...

You are going on holidays and you booked your tickets, the hotel, even the rental car and you have packed your bags, checked your passport, and chosen your favourite book to read; you’ve got everything you need and off you go onto your annual rest from it all to some exciting, exotic and hopefully enjoyable destination. And the advice you are given by everyone you talk to before you leave? Make sure you enjoy it and switch off!

Vacation starts, you are going to “switch everything off” but as soon as we arrive at the airport we take a ‘selfie’ and post it on Face book. Then we check in our status “off to my holidays” follow by scrolling down and check out what’s happened in the last 2 hours we didn’t go into Face book because we were on our way to the airport. And for good measure, you check your work e-mail just to read the last few before you “switch off”

You board the plane; you sit and pick up the airline magazine to pass the time before taking off. During the flight you read your book, chat and plan all the exiting things you will do when you get there, you have completely switched off. You land and go to the luggage hall to collect your bag and you turn your smart device on. You know how expensive roaming charges are abroad so you “switch off” data roaming on your phone and check to see if there is free wireless at the airport. You pick up an open network and you get 45 minutes free! Yea! You can now go into Face Book and take another “selfie’ and post it in your page with the status “we’ve landed” you then scroll down to see what’s been happening in the last two hours you “switch off” on the plan and see how many people liked your previous picture and status. You like a few things and then take a quick glance at your work e-mail to see if anything came in the last two hours.

You take your bags and walk to the car rental company to pick up the car, you still have about 20 minutes left of free Wi-Fi so you take the opportunity to continue checking stuff and do a quick Skype call to let people know you landed safely. You get the keys, a map and board your rental car trying to figure out which way to go out of the airport and onto your hotel. You arrive, safely and slightly later than planned as you got lost on the way there. You go and check in. While you wait you take out your smart phone again and check if there is Wi-Fi, there is! And it’s free too! Take another selfie, do a status update and a quick glance at the work e-mail. Check in, go up to your room, unpack and start your vacation!

And without realising it, you spend your entire vacation hooked onto your smart device, chatting, posting, taking selfies to let everyone know where you’ve been and ever so often checking your work e-mail too “to deal with those urgent things”; but hey, you are on vacation and have taken everyone’s advice to enjoy it and … oh hang on, you haven’t switch off!

This is the reality many of us face nowadays as life in the modern era of technology and virtual networking has made it easier for us to stay in touch and literally never switch off. But is this a bad thing and does it really spoil your break? Most people will know that when I take a break from work I call it my “workation” as even though I will be away doing most things non-work related, I still like to keep an eye on my work. By doing this I am able to know that when I come back I don’t have to spend longer hours trying to catch up with things and drown in my inbox which is about to explode with all the e-mails I didn’t read while away. I also like to keep very active socially and remain in contact with people through my social networks, yes sharing selfies, chatting and checking what everyone is up to. And because I also have my writing challenge I find myself dedicating time to this week’s blog as well. All an all, my vacation is a time where I still do all the things which are part of my everyday life, remaining balanced between all of them and enjoy time away, it is just my focus that shifts.

I think that switching off from work whilst on holidays does not work. I think you can shift the amount of time you spend thinking about work, after all your are on vacation, but still remain focused on it. And I think that this is the balance we often talk about in life; think about it. When you are at work, the majority of your focus is at work, but you never “switch off” from your private life, you still check on your family, things that are going on and have to do at home and you are always alert at events that may take place in your private life, while at work. You also take time and check in socially, while you take your break or go for lunch. You make the occasional call home to make sure everything is ok and deal with any emergencies that may come up. But all this time your main focus has been work, and doing a great job. So you can see that during our work time, we don’t just switch off from our private and social life, it’s virtually impossible. So why when we go on holidays we are told to switch off from work? We are not advised to switch off from home when at work.

For me the real balance is to be able to shift your time appropriately in each occasion of your life. When at work the majority of your focus is on work, but you do check in with friends and family as and when needed or appropriate. When you are at home your focus is with the family and occasionally check in with friends and work. With friends your focus is with them and check in with family and work, and when on vacation, it’s time for all, family, friends, work and more importantly time for you to do what you want to do, when you want to do it and how you want to do it, staying in touch with all circles of your life including your hobbies and passions; that’s why you are getting week thirty-four of my blog challenge!

This next two weeks as I take time for my “workation” I will continue to bring that balance in my life, knowing that I can still enjoy life without having to “switch off” anything! Have you found your balance yet?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Week Thirty- three – #Culture

They say that Culture is at the heart of a nation and to get to that nation you have to win their heart!

You can take the boy out of Mexico but you can't take Mexico out of the boy!
This week I was talking to a group of people about culture and it is a subject that fascinates me for many reasons. And Culture is something so powerful and important in our lives that we should all pay attention to it and be aware of the implications that it has in our lives. But let’s first define what culture is. I am not going to give you the dictionary definition but rather what I have learned throughout my life.

First of all culture is at the centre of everyone’s life. It’s a set of values we live by and use to drive our actions. Culture is a passion for something we have inherited and will pass on to others and it is what makes us who we are. With this in mind, you can see why when I say culture is something very powerful I mean VERY POWERFUL! That is why often you hear people say “it’s a culture shock” essentially because when you are faced with something that doesn’t fit your culture, it throws out everything you know about values and set of norms you live by.

Now let us put this in perspective. I was born and raised in Mexico and spent the first 18 years of my life there. At heart and mind I am a Mexican and my routes are something I will never loose particularly because my formation years where spent living and breathing the Mexican way. They say you can take the boy out of Mexico but you can’t take Mexico out of the boy, a true statement for all of us. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away from your motherland, you will always have something that ties you back, and it is who you are. And the reason for this is that your education and character building took place there and it is embedded in you.  For me growing up in Mexico set my views and values I now carry with me and live by, I am proud to be Mexican and will always carry it in my heart. There is a Mexican Mariachi song that says “Beautiful and beloved Mexico, if I die far away from you, tell them that I’m sleeping and return me to you” and nothing could be further from the truth, you main not be buried in your home land but spiritually that’s were we all end up.

But the boy left Mexico and went to the UK and did he have a culture shock! The next set of my formation years (teens) were spent in England, where things worked very differently! But here is where I became fascinated with culture without knowing it. Most people when they leave their country they become homesick, and they miss everything about their culture. It is a natural reaction; remember what we said about culture, it rules your life, so all of the sudden everything you know is out of whack! But for me it was different. Right up to the date I left Mexico I lived and breath the culture, it’s all I knew and loved it (Mexican’s do have a lot of fun!) but within days of being in the UK I was not missing Mexico any more. It’s hard to explain as I did and still love Mexico, but I was ready to embrace a new culture, which fascinated me. Some people saw this wrong as they believed I was forgetting where I came from, trust me I never have, but I didn’t need to miss Mexico to still love it, and at the same time I was learning a new way of life, a new set of values and passions of people in my new country, my new home. Pretty soon I realised that I wanted to stay in the UK and therefore I had to embrace the culture and live like an Englishman! Here is where I began to understand that culture is at the heart of a nation and to get to people’s hearts is through their culture. Often what cause conflict in society is segregation and the struggle between who is right and who is wrong. When you are a Mexican and live in the UK, if you live like a Mexican you will never fit in or indeed be accepted into society. You can remain proud to be a Mexican and still follow your traditions, but you must also embrace the culture where you live and conform to the values of the people there, after all you have chosen to be here.

I don’t mean to say I had to become English to be accepted, not at all, I still call myself a Mexican even though I’ve not lived there for over 28 years. But I had to learn their culture, accept it and live it, this was now my home and it would become part of who I am. So I guess I could say there is Mexican and English in me, Mexinglish may be the right word for me; I learned the values of the culture and lived by those values, which often aligned with my values as a Mexican.

I have sometimes called myself “citizen of the world” because I have been fortunate enough to also be able to experience different cultures and embrace them. My mother’s family came form Spain and I married a Spaniard, so I have also learned and embraced the culture. I have lived and worked in Germany and my father side has some German, so I declared myself German! There is some Jewish blood in our family and I have been fortunate enough to spend time in Israel through my work, I have felt home every time I’ve been there. I’ve been mistaken as an Armenian, Georgian, Azeri, Egyptian, Italian, and any other Latin Middle eastern countries you can think of, and when I’ve been in those countries I have learned and embraced their culture, and some times feel part of them! In my travels I have learned that the way to be accepted anywhere you are, first you have to accept where you are. Learn about the country, the people, their traditions, passion, believes, be respectful of these and try things, nothing is going to kill you. If people see that you accept them, they will accept you and also respect your culture back.

It is very rewarding to live and learn new cultures; it only makes you stronger and a better person. There are many values that are shared by all, Family, Health, Friendship, and Respect, we all live by these. So if we accept people’s culture, soon you will see that actually it’s not that far away from yours, the difference is the rich history and traditions that make each country and culture so unique and fascinating to learn, after all, we are all citizens of this world, the world belongs to all of us.

The sooner we remove segregation and separation of land, the sooner we will enjoy sharing our cultures and planned amongst our fellow citizens of the world!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Week Thirty-two – Doors!

Everything in our lives seems to revolve around doors, and I don’t mean just physical doors but metaphorical ones too!

Mexico's Pop Sensation Emmanuel 

This week I had another “door” slammed on my face, and I don’t mean an actual door, wooden, metal, glass or any other material, but a metaphorical door. In my pursuit to becoming a full time writer I have been working to get one of my musicals, "El Rey Azul", noticed by the artist whose music I have used to create the story, and let me tell you, it’s not been an easy task. For the last two years I have been looking for ways to contact Mexican Pop Star sensation “Emmanuel”, who began his artistic career in the late 70’s becoming one of Mexico’s iconic signing heroes. I decided to take some of his best-known songs and turn them into a musical in the style of “Mama Mia” and “We Will Rock You”. However, everywhere I’ve searched I have not been able to get in contact with him. About a year ago a friend of mine in a conversation mentioned that her mother’s cousin happened to work for Emmanuel as some sort of accountant, and when you lease expect it, a door of opportunity had open for me. Since then we’ve been going backwards and forwards, he has been busy touring and I guess an unknown Mexican writer with a wacky idea for a musical may not have been his priority. However I kept in contact with someone who worked for him and ever so often I would give him the “e-mail nudge” to remind him I never give up on an idea. I noticed in Facebook that Emmanuel had gone quieter and I though it was time to “nudge” this guy again. To my surprise he replied almost immediately and my heart started to pound hard with excitement thinking I’m in!

This blog is about the metaphorical doors in our lives and as you guessed, sadly a door was shut right in my face! He wrote to inform me that he no longer worked for Emmanuel. As I stared at that door firmly shut in front of my eyes, I began to reflect on what to do when someone shuts a door in your face, literally. I guess in life if you are going somewhere and you want to get in/out and a door is shut, the first thing you do is try to open it again right? Most of us in real life when real doors are shut we nock, shake and try to open it again; we don’t just walk away. So I did, I knocked, shook and try to open it again.

After the initial disappointment I decided to reply to him, first of all thanking him for letting me know and asking him if he would know whom I could contact instead to continue with my proposal. You can see here I am “metaphorically” grasping onto the doorknob and trying to open that door again! He, very politely, replied that he didn’t know. In this industry when doors are shut usually they are bolted on the other side! And I imagine he was not prepared to help me, there is nothing in it for him and probably left in not such good terms.

Ok that door is shut, firmly and perhaps bolted, but it doesn’t mean that there are no other doors to let me in, not just to Emmanuel but to fulfilling my career dream as a writer.

I noticed in his e-mail signature the web address of his new company so I went and searched it, an impressive entertainment organisation that also does theatrical productions. Now here is a door I want to keep, if not open, at least ajar! So very politely I thank him for his help and slipped in that I had seen the website of his new company and would always welcome the opportunity to work with them and share some of my work; I supplied him my website address and moved on. I don’t expect that the door will suddenly swing wide open, but I have at least knocked on it and left a note underneath. Some times you have to do a lot of knocking to be heard, so now I have his attention, I will continue to knock on that door until one day it may open up! I also went back to my friend and ask her to try and get me a new contact through her mum’s cousin; an old door that opened before and I know it can open again.

And I will continue to knock on doors, until one of them will open.

But the idea of doorways, doors and knocking is one that we should all take seriously and use this metaphor in our every day lives to help us get to where we want to. I found this week that by using this metaphor my spirits really lifted and I am more energised that ever to continue looking for those doors that will open up and fulfil my dream to see my work on stage. And life is all about opening those doors. Think of all the expression we use related to this; “opening doors” “key to your success” “opportunity knocks” “one door shuts, anther door opens “ and perhaps being successful is about understanding how we open those doors, and making sure we open the right ones. It’s about being in the right room, where there may be other doors leading to the right place, it’s about being in and not out, it’s about shutting doors that lead to nowhere and looking for those that takes us where we want to be. It’s about knocking time after time, and loud so we are heard and someone will open that door. In the end, the great thing about this metaphor is that there are as many doors as you want there to be. If you think positively you can create doors, look for doors and knock as hard as you can in the hope that the person on the other side will open it for you. Don’t be afraid to move away from a door that’s closed, but not before you try to open it again, and try as many door as you can. Some will be slammed on your face, and trust me, it hurts, but you have to move on, and don’t let that “moral nose bleed” stop you from carrying on.

Success only comes from failing, and I guess doors will only open once you’ve had a few slammed on your face!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Week Thirty-one – Family and Friends!

My father use to say, “In life you can choose your friends but not your family” and he was right, but both are equally important in our lives.

There is nothing worst than a terrible silence or long pauses when you are desperately trying to make polite conversation with someone you have very little in common. Or those moments of awkward time together with someone you know but really share hardly any emotional attachments. We all have been there, and we all have experience this even with people we have known for a long time. Some people say there is no chemistry if you don’t “hit it off” with someone, some times that special “bond” may not exist, but whatever it is, it is clear that there are some people we would rather not see very often unless we have to!

On the other hand, one of the greatest feelings in this world is when you can sit with someone and just talk for hours and feel good about it. Those times when you can just sit there a talk, feel that you are being listened to and it just feels natural being there. There are no awkward moments, and slices are always a pause to reflect on what has been said and continue with the conversation. And at no point you feel that time is ticking in the background, in fact, often you run out of time, because you have so much more to say. Those are special moments we all have shared with people we know and have in our lives.

This week I have remembered the importance of Friends and Family, and not that I had forgotten about it, but sometimes we take things for granted and become blasé about people in our lives. You may have heard the expression that says “You don’t know what you have until you lose it” which is often associated with someone breaking up from a relationship realising that what they had was good. Or sometime when someone close to us has passed away, and we then realised how important he/she was in our lives. Far too often we wait until the end to realise that what we had was good, and this is because we don’t always remember to focus on those around us.

But let me share with you, as always, two experiences this week that showed me how vital friends and family are in our lives. Let’s start with friendship which is so key to humans and part of our every day lives.

When I first joined Face book back in 2007 I was exited to know that the world had created a space where I was able to re-connect with people I had met in various stages of my life. I began to connect with so many people I knew and enjoyed their company. I know people are very cautious about Face book and the use of it, and I agree that social media has become very dangerous, but to me is just as dangerous as what you say in your local pub, there is always someone listening or sharing this information, so you only tell people what you want them to know! Nevertheless for me this was a great vehicle to re-kindle with so many friends. However, virtual social networking is hard work, and you have to constantly be there to keep up with all that is happening and remain in touch with people. So I guess this is no different to what it was like before we had Face book, the only difference is that now you can communicate with so many people across the world instead of just a few in your local pub! This fact alone make social networking on the Internet a great place to be and the added advantage is that nowadays you don’t need to be in the same pub to be able to keep those relationships going.

We have always known that it’s hard work to keep up with friends and this may be due to the fact that not everyone you know may be one of those individuals you have “chemistry” with, or a more deep meaningful relationship that goes beyond a drink and a packet of crisps on a Friday evening. And you don’t need to see those special friends every day to know he/she is a great friend. What made me realise this is when I met my long-standing friend, Charlotte More, after more then 3 years of just communicating through virtual social networking. We sat in Starbucks drinking a coffee and picking up from where we left last time we saw each other, as if time had not passed by. It is a great feeling and one hard to describe, but even after all this time we had so much to talk and in fact ran out of time. We said goodbye not knowing when will it be the next time we see each other but our friendship is so strong and so important that it doesn’t matter how far we are, or how often we see each other, there will always be room for a coffee and a great chat in Starbucks!

As Charlie and I said goodbye and I reflected on this, I realised that moments like this remind me that friendship is more than just having the person near you, is about sharing emotions and experiences that makes that bond, that chemistry, that special something that every time you meet you can spend hours just catching up and enjoying each other’s company.

So what about Family? The picture I have shared with you all in this blog has, of course my friend Charlie, but also my family. My father said you can’t choose your family, and he was right to some extend, but whom you marry and have your own family with is your choice! In my case I chose to marry an incredible woman who turns out to be also a great friend! And my children are a product of that loving bond between us, so I guess I chose my family and very happy to have them in my life! And I realised how important they are in my life when this week I found myself alone in my house as they left for their summer vacation in Spain. And what has really brought home the importance of family is that being alone in the house reminds me how empty my life is without them! Yes we all enjoy peace and quite from time to time, but when you find yourself wondering around not hearing the shouting and fighting and noises they make, you realise how important those noises are in your life! This experience helps me remember that I am who I am because of them, and this should never be taken for granted.

I guess we are who we are because of those around us, both friends and family, and that no matter how far or close they are, they form a vital part in our lives. So don’t wait to know what you have until you lose it, it may be too late to get it back.